Sweeping Craft Beer Legislation on Tap Soon in Illinois

In Beer Politics by Ryan

Craft beer legislation could be introduced in the coming weeks to make comprehensive changes to the laws governing brewers in Illinois.

IMG_20140529_094201The Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois and Illinois Craft Brewers Guild have spent the last few weeks crafting what could be sweeping changes to Illinois’ beer laws that would shape the future of craft beer in the state.

Neither ABDI President Bob Myers nor ICBG Executive Director Justin Maynard will talk specifics however the two have been talking. On the table for discussion, according to Maynard, is changes to the production cap on both breweries and brewpubs, self-distribution caps or self-distribution rules and licensing for brewpubs. The goal is to pass something comprehensive that would allow Illinois brewers to brew beer for a few years without having to look over their shoulder at production caps or come back to Springfield on a regular basis to renegotiate bits and pieces of the state’s Craft Beer Act.

If and when legislation is eventually introduced and passed, Illinois would join a growing number of states which are easing restrictions and opening up production caps for brewers. Lawmakers in Arizona, Wyoming and neighboring Iowa and Indiana — just to name a few — are taking up craft beer-friendly bills this legislative session.

Currently a craft brewer in Illinois is defined — in part — as one who brews 30,000 barrels of beer or less per year. Falling under that cap allows a brewer to self-distribute up to 7,500 barrels of beer a year and to own both a production brewery and a brewpub.

Revolution Brewing has been pushing up against that production cap for a few years, finally surpassing that mark in 2014 and has the most to gain from a thorough re-write of the law — as does Atlas Brewing Company. Both are operating production breweries and brewpubs and the future of those operations are in jeopardy if the law remains the same.

Rev Brew Managing Partner, Josh Deth, told Guys Drinking Beer in February he’s eager for a resolution.

“We are in meaningful discussions with the ILCC, ICBG and other stakeholders on improving the licensing climate for brewers in Illinois and we are hopeful that state regulations won’t get in the way of our growth,” said Deth.

While a bump in numbers, most likely in the production cap and perhaps in the amount a small brewer could self-distribute, is almost undoubtedly in the works the licensing rules are less certain. One issue both sides are trying to clear up stems from a re-interpretation of current law by the Illinois Liquor Control Commission.

Last summer ILCC Chief Legal Counsel Rick Haymaker determined this line from the Illinois Liquor Control Act: “a brew pub licensee shall not sell for off-premises consumption more than 50,000 gallons per year,” means a brewpub could only sell 50,000 gallons of beer to a distributor. ABDI President Bob Myers, who negotiated the law in question in 1997, told Guys Drinking Beer in a June, 2013 interview the law is meant to cap the amount of beer a brewpub can sell to-go in the form of growlers, six packs, bombers, etc — not what they could sell to a distributor.

“[I]n no time did we put any restrictions on how much they can manufacture nor did we talk about how much they can sell to a distributor – which is what this proposed rule does. I would never, never agree to that. Why would I? Why would I agree to limit the amount the amount that they can sell to my members?”

Why is this important? Two reasons: first, a law like that could be a death-blow to a number of brewpubs who — as Myers points out — rely on distributors to get their beer on tap at other bars. Secondly, a workaround for brewers like Revolution and Atlas to retain both their brewery and brewpub would be to change the brewery’s license to a brewpub license. It’s a bit murky — and on its face doesn’t make a lot of sense — but the idea was pushed by the ABDI a few years ago and has been recognized by the ILCC as a sufficient workaround. However this new rule interpretation by the ILCC deflates that idea and leaves brewers in limbo.

Both Myers and Maynard say the ILCC is giving them some time to iron out a legislative fix before anything is set in stone.

“We have been working conscientiously with the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild to develop a comprehensive, long-term solution which would incorporate not only the brew pub issue but address the growing needs of the brewer members of the Guild while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of the State’s Three Tier Regulatory System,” said Myers.

Maynard tells Guys Drinking Beer the two sides are close to wrapping up negotiations and is hopeful to have a bill in a few weeks, as is Myers.

“ABDI remains hopeful that we will come to an agreement and we will continue to work with the Guild to find resolution on this issue” said Myers.

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Equal parts beer nerd and policy geek, Ryan is now the curator of the Guys Drinking Beer cellar. The skills he once used to dig through the annals of state government as a political reporter are now put to use offering unique takes on barrel-aged stouts, years-old barleywines and 10 + year verticals.