As we discussed last week, wacky beer-related laws abound in the states across this great union of ours. But just as the arc of the moral universe bends ever closer toward justice, it also bends toward commonsense beer legislation. Lawmakers in several states have recently proposed or passed bills that could make it easier for brewers to make and sell their beers—and easier for you to drink it. This is government in action, folks.
First, we’ve got Georgia on the mind because a bill that would allow beer and liquor manufacturers to sell directly to consumers passed the state house on Monday. If approved by the state senate (which is likely) and signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, the law’s passage would end a years-long battle between Peach State brewers and the wholesalers who currently hold exclusive rights to purchase beer from the people who make it. It would also enable brewers to end clumsy workarounds involving sales of souvenir glassware (which could then be filled with beer from a brewery’s taproom) or charging varying prices for brewery tours that conclude with “souvenir” pints or take-home six-packs or cases of beer. Georgia is currently one of just two states in the entire country that doesn’t allow direct, on-site sales to brewery customers. The other is Mississippi.
Speaking of Mississippi: House Bill 1322, which will permit breweries making fewer than 60,000 barrels of beer a year to sell bottles or cans directly to customers who visit the brewery, is headed to Gov. Phil Bryant to be signed or vetoed. The bill would enable brewers to sell up to two cases of beer per day to any one person, but would cap the total amount allowed for on-site sales each year at either 1,500 barrels or 10 percent of the total amount of beer produced at the brewery—whichever is lesser. Baby steps.
And Minnesota is no longer blue—on Sundays, at least. New legislation signed by Governor Mark Dayton last week ended a 159-year-old blue law banning Sunday sales in liquor stores. Starting July 2, liquor stores will be able to open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the Lord’s day, which means no more Sunday morning beer runs to Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, in Maryland, a new brewery proposed by the makers of Guinness has inspired several versions of a bill that could increase the amount of beer breweries are allowed to sell out of their taprooms. Currently, brewers can only sell 500 barrels of beer per year over the counter. Beer and liquor giant Diageo has asked lawmakers to bump that limit up to 5,000 barrels to accommodate the 250,000 visitors the company expects to visit its new Guinness brewing facility in Relay after its proposed fall 2017 opening. The Brewers Association of Maryland has jumped on board, supporting a separate bill that would allow all brewers in the Old Line State to sell up to 4,000 barrels through their taprooms, but would require them to close at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at midnight Friday and Saturday. That version of the bill will have a public hearing on Thursday.
And then, of course, there’s Utah. Legislators in the state that caps draft beer at 4% ABV just passed a bill that would lower the legal blood alcohol content for drivers from 0.8% to 0.5%. The bill is now headed for the desk of Governor Gary Herbert, who has said he plans to sign it. Once approved, the law would make Utah’s DUI threshold the lowest in the nation.