Tennessee Legislators Want To Limit Sales of High Gravity Beer

Tennessee Legislators Want To Limit Sales of High Gravity Beer

For crying out loud. Just when craft beer is on the up and up, we have boneheaded legislators sneaking in a bill to kill the momementum. That in turn puts brewers and retailers at a disadvantage, and causes money to leave the state. Craig Mangum, Nashville Beer Geek’s legal consultant (not really, just sounds cool), has analyzed the bill and with an op ed. If you have the time, please contact your legislator and voice your opposition to this bill. I have been told that phone calls have more impact than emails. Read more (it’s also reposted below)

From Craig Mangum’ Beer Law Blog:

Big Brother wants to tell you how much high gravity beer you can buy and how many you can consume in one sitting.  On Wednesday, a bill was introduced that requires the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission to limit the amount of “certain high alcohol content beverages” that a liquor store can sale to a customer in one day.  The bill would also require the ABC to limit the amount of “certain high alcohol content beverages” that can be sold to a bar patron in a single day. 

The bill as proposed is bad policy for too many reasons to list.  Some of the highlights:

I.                    The bill requires the ABC to set the limits.  No discretion.

The bill is straightforward in one regard; Tennessee ABC must pass rules and regulations restricting the sales of high alcohol content beverages.  No discretion.

II.                  The Bill passes the buck to the ABC to set the limit on how many high-alc beverages can be sold. 

If limited discretion to pass rules restricting the sale of high-alc beverages was bad, giving unlimited discretion on what limits can be set is worse.  Is one high-grav beverage per sitting enough?  What about a limit of one six pack per customer?  The ABC has huge discretion in this area.  Proponents of the bill will likely argue that the ABC will promote reasonable restrictions.  Maybe it will (Though I would argue that any restriction is unreasonable).  However, is this the type of discretion that should be given to non-elected officials?  Moreover, the ABC could easily change its rules year to year and wouldn’t need legislative approval to do so. 

III.                The bill only targets high-alc beer, not wine or spirits.

The Bill requires “certain high alcohol content beverages” be (further) regulated but does not define what constitutes a “certain high alcohol content beverage”.  What high alcohol beverages are to be targeted?  It is clear from the synopsis of the bill and the language used that the intent of the bill’s sponsors is solely to regulate high-alc beer.  The only type of “high content alcohol” mentioned in the synopsis of the bill is beer.  Moreover, within the current Tennessee statutes only the definition of beer with more than 5% abw is labeled “high alcohol.”  Wine is simply defined as fermented grape juice (not to exceed 21% abv). 

While sales of wine and whiskey could certainly be restricted by the language of the bill (if beer above 5% abw is high alcohol, so is wine and spirits); the bill does not require that all “high alcohol content beverages” be regulated in this manner.  Will the commission limit the amount of wine or whiskey that can be sold to a single customer in a single day? Don’t bet on it.  This bill was clearly targeted at high alcohol beer.

IV.                Bad for business.

Tennessee certainly does not have the worst beer laws; that distinction belongs to Mississippi.  However, it’s still not a stretch to state that Tennessee is not the most beer-friendly state.  For Sierra Nevada to even consider Tennessee as a destination for its new brewery project, Tennessee’s laws had to change.  This bill is a step backward.  Even if the ABC sets “reasonable” restrictions, this bill does not promote a friendly climate for breweries, distributors or restaurants/bars.    It is simply bad for business.

There are numerous other problems with the bill, such as how it will be enforced (will ABC require liquor stores create a daily list of people who buy high-alc beer and the quantity purchased?).  At the end of the day, the State should not tell its citizens how many Dale’s Pale Ales (6.5% abv) they can have, especially when there is no limit on the amount of Sierra Nevada Pale Ales (5.6% abv) one can purchase.  This is government paternalism at its worst. 

Currently, the bill has been sent to the Senate State & Local Government committee and has yet to reach committee in the house.  There is still time to contact your legislators and the committee members to stop this bill from passing.