Politics

A bill raising the cap on how much packaged beer can be bought from Kentucky microbreweries is nearing final passage from the state legislature.

The measure would allow customers to take home up to 31 gallons of beer — the equivalent of two kegs — from microbreweries. Currently the limit is two dozen 12-ounce beers, or a little over two gallons.

Adam Watson, co-owner of Against the Grain Brewery in Louisville, said the measure would help boost sales out of their breweries and beyond.

“We want to sell our beer in as many locations as possible,” Watson said. “There’s over 6,700 retail locations in Kentucky. I can guarantee I will sell my beer better in those 6,700 locations than hoarding it all under one roof and trying to sell it all out of mine.”

Since Prohibition, Kentucky’s (and most other states’) laws require alcohol brewers, distributors and retailers to be independent entities to prevent monopolies — the so-called “three-tiered system”

The original version of the bill would have totally eliminated the cap for how much packaged beer microbreweries can sell on site — but was scaled back after pushback from distributors and retailers, who said brewers shouldn’t be allowed to “skip” the other tiers.

Sen. Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, accused retailers and distributors of “trying to gang up” on microbrewers.

“For some reason, some in the industry decided to be paternalistic to show that they could keep the craft-brew guys under their thumb. This is despicable,” Thayer said.

“On-premise sales will help them grow their brand and increase demand for the product at retail outlets. It’s simple market economics.”

In a statement, the Kentucky Beer Wholesalers Association commended the committee for passing the compromise legislation:

“KBWA members are proud of our longstanding relationship with the craft beer industry and the collaborative effort that went into finding a compromise that would help encourage the continued growth of the craft beer sector, without jeopardizing the important role that the three-tier system plays in providing oversight, accountability, and safety to the alcoholic beverage industry.”

In recent years, microbreweries won legislative approval to increase the cap on how much beer they can brew and close a loophole in state law that allowed out-of-state breweries to run their own distributorships.

The bill has already passed the state House and is now eligible for a vote by the Senate.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.