February 14, 2005 Written by ElGaucho
Minnetonka, MINNESOTA -
There is an antiquated Prohibition era law on the books in six states that prevents beer over 6% ABV from being sold. North Carolina is one of those states, with the others being Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and West Virginia. As the story goes, in 1935 when Prohibition was repealed in North Carolina, politically connected mill owners pushed through the law so that their mill workers wouldn’t show up drunk on Mondays.
A grass roots effort called "Pop the Cap" has succeeded in getting a bill (HB392) written that would essentially drop the phrase "…and not more than six percent" from the North Carolina beer law, which would pave the way for higher alcohol styles like barleywines and doppelbocks to be sold in stores and to be brewed in brewpubs. As it currently stands, North Carolina beer aficionados are forced to drive to across state borders in order to buy these beers, increasing their cost and taking dollars out of the North Carolina economy. This alcohol restriction is also preventing purveyors of higher alcohol brews, like Three Floyds, Stone and Dogfish Head, from selling their signature brews in this State, thereby hampering the efforts of these craft brewers from gaining a larger piece of the American beer pie.
Forty-four of Ratebeer’s top 50 beers are over 6% alcohol. And, despite the fact that a few of those are not available in bottles, it is clear that, with few exceptions, the world’s best beers are simply not available to North Carolinians. With the cream of the crop held out, this results in great market conditions for macro brewers like Bud, Coors and Miller.
"Pop the Cap" is encouraging supporters to help them with the following action items:
Ø Write to your local House Representative
Ø Write to each member of the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Committee (ABC)
Ø Call Speaker of the House Jim Black, House Majority Leader Joe Hackney, and Speaker Pro-Tem Richard Morgan and express your support for HB392
Ø On Tuesday, March 22, join Pop the Cap at the state legislative building to express your support for HB392 and your love for specialty beer
The following is a Q&A session held with Pop the Cap President and co-Founder, Sean Lilly Wilson.
Q: When is HB392 due to be voted upon?
A: Right now it’s sitting in the House Alcohol Beverage Control committee. Sadly, the chairman of the committee passed away last week. We are trying to move the bill to the Commerce committee, a group that includes four sponsors of HB392. We expect the House will vote on the bill in a few weeks and will move it along to the Senate for a vote in late April or May.
Q: In some of the materials I have read about Pop the Cap, there is mention of the possibility to "lose the opportunity to change the law." Does this mean that if HB392 does not pass this year that the window of
opportunity will somehow be lost?
A: Yes. Based on how the NC legislature is structured, this current "long session" is our best opportunity to change the law. Our next chance, realistically, isn’t until 2007. We’ve worked on this for two years, and it’s time.
Q: What do you foresee as the primary impacts on North Carolina’s brewers and on the North Carolina beer market in general of lifting the 6% ban?
A: I can tell you that most craft beer businesses expect it to have a modest impact on them...i.e., brewers may add a new product line or two. (The current law is) a nuisance, really. It makes NC look backward and hinders brewers’ right to brew to style. Some distributors will do very well from a lifting of the cap, and I bet you’ll see some new businesses spring up once the 6% law is gone.
Q: To your knowledge, what efforts are being made by the other 5 states still under the 6% cap to lift their restrictions?
A: Alabama has www.freethehops.org...very active. South Carolina has www.popthecapsc.org...somewhat active. Mississippi is a lost cause (don’t tell my in-laws I said that - they live in Jackson). I don’t know about West Virginia or Arkansas. They seem indifferent.
Q: To your knowledge, are any of the national macro brewers lobbying to prevent this cap from being lifted?
A: No. Some macro wholesalers are raising a stink, but the North Carolina Wholesalers Association is officially neutral. This issue hardly registers with the macro breweries.
Q: Outside of the intended publishing of a story regarding the Pop the Cap movement on Ratebeer.com, is there anything else non-NC resident Ratebeer members can do to aid this effort?
A: Thanks for asking! Join the newsletter at www.popthecap.org - even if you’re not from North Carolina. Most states have screwy beer laws, so you might enjoy seeing how we’re working to change the law here in NC.