Friday, January 31, 2014

Wine Coming to Tennessee Grocery Stores, But What About High-Gravity Beer?

Posted By on Fri, Jan 31, 2014 at 3:08 PM

So, it looks like we're getting wine in grocery stores (and by "getting," I mean more than two years from now) after the state Senate passed its version of the bill yesterday. There's a good recap of the details here.

But what's not in the bill now is a provision to allow stores to sell so-called "high-gravity" beer, which is to say any beer with alcohol content higher than 6.5 percent by volume. That had been in the Senate version, but was stripped out to align it more with the House bill. Currently, sale of "high-gravity" beers is only in liquor stores.

Where does Tennessee fall when compared to other Southern states? Thanks to Friend of Bites David Wingo for posting this yesterday on the Twitters:


(Note: 5% by weight is 6.3% by volume; SC should be 17.5%)

Bites talked with Yazoo Brewing's Linus Hall, who led the charge to get the beer tax fixed last year, about where he and the Tennessee Craft Brewers Guild go from here.

"We always planned on running our own bill, just because it's so much easier to explain when it's not all tied up with wine-in-grocery-stores," Hall said. "Since the Senate bill that was voted on last year already had that amendment in place, we lobbied the House to include it, but were not successful."

So, does the wine-in-grocery-stores bill that passed help or hurt the cause for beer fans?

"In the long run, a lot of the debate that's been going on with the wine bill will be helpful," Hall said. "They've set the cap for wine in grocery stores at 18 percent, and that leaves a lot of room for our bill to come in later."

Which leads to one interesting part of all this: The General Assembly has already set the cap on what percentage alcohol should be permitted. The beneficiaries of the wine-in-grocery-stores bill are almost exclusively out-of-state wineries and chains of grocery stores.

The Tennessee Craft Brewers Guild's argument — that the state's burgeoning craft brewing industry be afforded the opportunity — may benefit from the wine-in-grocery-stores debate. By setting this standard with wine, the General Assembly's arguments about "high-gravity" beer should be largely about dollars, not alcohol. A similar economic strategy was successful with the "Fix the Beer Tax" push last year.

Hall said that Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) in the House and Mark Green (R-Clarksville) in the Senate will carry the bill.

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