OK, we have been getting a lot of calls, emails, facebook postings, tweets, etc over the proposed amendment to SB1224. Here's the story of what is happening from our point of view.
We have been concentrating all week on getting our new bottling line up and running. The technician from Italy was here starting last Friday, and it's been 12-14 hour days since. So in the middle of all this, I got a call last Friday afternoon from a lawyer who helped us get our TN ABC distillery license last year. He told me that there is a certain nationally distributed brewery who was looking to set up another brewery location in either eastern TN, Virginia, or North Carolina. They want assurances from TN that, if they chose TN for their new brewery, they would be able to brew high-gravity beer, and to serve it at an on-site restaurant. So an amendment was added to an unrelated bill, that would create a new definition of "high alcohol content beer" and authorize the ABC to issue licenses to brew it. But then the state-wide definition was narrowed to only allow this particular brewery to qualify. Why, I don't know.
At the same time, the group who purchased the old Coors brewery in Memphis got wind of the amendment. We were going to join with them, to lobby for the bill to include all breweries in TN, but then found out they wanted to go it alone.
We don't have the resources to hire lobbyists. I started calling and emailing our senators. I talked to our distributor, asking them to try to contact the legislators and lobbyists crafting the bill. We have had ZERO input into the wording of this bill.
There are good parts and bad parts to this bill. The good: high alcohol beer manufacturers will be able to sample and sell high-alcs in the same facility where they are made. It would end the silly restrictions against selling growlers to go if you serve high-alcohol beer. It would allow the brewers to operate a restaurant and serve high-alc alongside regular strength beer, and still sell growlers to-go of both types of beer.
The bad: well, that's obvious. It only authorizes three brewers to be part of this "pilot project". We were only included at the last second because we already hold a distiller's license to brew high-alc beer, and the bill ratifies the ABC director's decision to grant us one last year.
I don't like that part of the bill, but I feel that after a year, the ABC director can report positively on the "pilot project" and the legislature can open the license to all brewers. I can't speak for all other TN brewers, but it has been a year since we got our distiller's license. I reported on this blog the details on how we went about getting it. I've talked to several TN brewers about the procedures, and gave them advice on how to go about getting one. We are only included in the bill as it is written, so that the legislature can ratify a decision the ABC had already made, i.e. granting Yazoo a distiller's license.
Again: we have had ZERO input on this bill. We are caught up in the drama of two relatively huge out-of-state brewers trying to influence TN law. Those of you who know me, know that I shoot straight from the hip.