Flight of craft beer

Flight of craft beer.

RALEIGH — A bill that would create a new brewery class in North Carolina is one signature away from becoming law.

House Bill 363, the Craft Beer Distribution and Modernization Act, passed the N.C. Senate in a 38-3 bipartisan vote in the evening of May 20. Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock) voted in favor of the bill.

Having passed the N.C. House on April 16 in a 104-8 vote, with Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone) voting in favor, the bill now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat. If signed, HB363 will become law immediately.

“This bill could definitely impact Watauga and Ashe counties.” Russell said. “This just opens up distribution opportunities for small and mid-size craft breweries.”

HB363 would allow breweries that make less than 100,000 barrels of malt beverages it produces per year to self-distribute up to 50,000 barrels, with the rest going through third-party licensed distributors.

Currently, N.C. breweries are only allowed to self-distribute 25,000 barrels a year and if a brewery exceeds that number, all of its sales would have to go through a third-party licensed distributor.

According to the Carolina Journal, the HB363 comes out of a compromise between legislators and state craft breweries. A 2017 lawsuit filed by Craft Freedom LLC – a beer distribution nonprofit founded by the owners of Charlotte-based Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and NoDa Brewing Co. – challenged the 25,000 distribution cap number and franchise laws. Russell said the cap number was “arcane.”

The lawsuit, which was ordered to go to trial in 2018, would likely be dropped if the bill becomes law, the plaintiff’s attorney said in a March news conference announcing the bill.

“It’s a win for the brewers. It’s a win for the distributors, it’s a win for consumers, and we’d like to think it’s a win for the General Assembly,” Tim Kent, executive director of the N.C. Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association, said in a March press conference.

In other alcohol-related legislation news, House Bill 389, which would permit alcohol sales at UNC system athletic events, has stalled in Senate committee since April 17. HB389 passed the N.C. House 87-25 on April 16.

According to Russell, legislative attempts to combine town ABC boards into a single county board were defeated, but he noted that bills can still be rewritten.

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