Trouble brewing

Amendment to Senate bill would cap state’s makers of high-alcohol beers, but may get pulled

Craft brewers of beer across the state are up in arms over proposed changes to state law that could limit the number of Tennessee breweries manufacturing high-alcohol beer to three statewide.

Amendment No. 2 on SB1224 sponsored by State Sen. Ken Yager (R-Harriman) would establish a “pilot program” that licenses only one brewery to produce high-alcohol beer in each of Tennessee’s three grand divisions.

High-alcohol, or high-gravity, beer is defined as having between 5 percent and 20 percent alcohol by weight and is sold in liquor and wine stores as opposed to supermarkets and convenience stores.

According to Doug Brumley at the beer blog "The Fledgling Brewer," the change would impact local players "Blackstone, Jackalope, Cool Springs, and Calfkiller, all of whom would be limited to brewing beers containing no more than 5 percent alcohol by weight (about 6.2 percent alcohol by volume). Popular craft beer styles like barleywines, imperial stouts and double India pale ales would be illegal to produce for all but the three Tennessee breweries licensed through the pilot program."

Since Nashville's Yazoo Brewing already makes high-alcohol beer, it would be grandfathered into the legislation and therefore take the Middle Tennessee spot and leave other Mid-state brewers feeling the draft.

Speculation is that the language for the bill was designed specifically for East Tennessee. The amendment very specifically requires the high-alcohol beer licensee in the East Tennessee Grand Division to be “located with a municipality having a population of not less than seventy-seven hundred (7,700) nor more than seventy-eight hundred (7,800) located in a county having a population of not less than one hundred five thousand eight hundred (105,800) nor more than one hundred five thousand nine hundred (105,900), according to the 2000 federal census. …”

There is hope for the craft beer distilleries, though. Another blog, "Nashville Beer Geek," is stating the Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) has promised to get the constricting amendment removed at a State Senate committee hearing on Tuesday.

The State House version of this bill is sponsored by Rep. Curry Todd (R-Collierville).