When it merits, GuysDrinkingBeer will bring you the relevant, generally-Chicago-centric information about what you’ll be imbibing around town. Here’s what’s running through our Mash Tun of Information:
A bill making it’s way through the Illinois Legislature, which would allow brewers that produce less than 60,000 barrels of beer to distribute their own beer and smaller brewpubs producing less than 50,000 gallons of beer to self-distribute, is “scheduled” to go before a Senate and House committee respectively this week. The bill would continue to allow Argus Brewery in Chicago and Big Muddy Brewing in Murphysboro to self-distribute. Brewpubs would also have the ability to self-distribute under the proposed legislation.
So why the quotation marks around scheduled, Ryan? Well, to put it simply, just because something is “scheduled” to be heard in a legislative committee or is “scheduled” to be debated on the floor of the house or senate does not necessarily mean it will. Now, I know that when you schedule a doctors appointment or a massage appointment that means you are going to see that person at that time and on that day. In the legislature, a bill can sit in a committee for weeks before it is heard. Think of it more as penciling something in to be firmed up at a later date. According to the state’s website the senate bill (SB 88) is scheduled before the executive committee today. The house bill (HB 205) has been assigned to that chambers executive committee but it does not show up on its schedule for Wednesday’s hearing.
The bottom line is, this issue will be before a legislative committee but it likely won’t be this week. A source close to the process tells me the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois and Anheuser-Busch are still negotiating the current bill, which was crafted by the brewers guild. It does not appear that the bill will be acted on in committee by either chamber this week and the three sides are likely to meet again soon – maybe as early as this week. A published report in the Beer Business Daily last year indicated the liquor control commission and distributors would prefer to not allow anyone to self-distribute; “the remedy should be “nullification, i.e. denying all breweries the right to own distributors, thereby preserving the regulatory benefits of the three-tier system.” The bill, as written, would also keep AB from self-distributing in Illinois – which is the whole reason the legislature is taking up the issue. Last year AB tried to buy out the remaining shares of it’s Chicago distributor, but the Illinois Liquor Control Commission blocked it saying it would encroach on the three-tiered distribution system. AB then turned around and sued the ILCC in federal court and won. A judge determined it was unfair for Illinois breweries and brewpubs to have the ability to self-distribute but not an out-of-state brewery. The judge gave the legislature until March 31st to amend the Illinois Liquor Control Act.
This sets up a mighty tug of war between craft brewers that want to hold on to their right to self-distribute and a brewery that wants the right to distribute craft beer, distributors that want to level the playing field and keep breweries out of the distribution game and a behemoth company that wants to take over distribution of its portfolio of beers in Illinois.