published Friday, February 28th, 2014

Guild fights to raise alcohol limits for beer in Tennessee

A campaign by the Tennessee Craft Brewers Guild to raise the alcohol content cap on beer allowed to be sold without a liquor license made a stop in Chattanooga Friday night.

"Right now in Tennessee, beer is defined as 5 percent alcohol by weight, or 6.25 percent by volume, which is one of the lowest definitions of beer in the country, and the lowest in the southeast by far," said Bailey Spaulding, CEO and brewmaster for Jackalope Brewing Co. in Nashville and the vice president of the TCBG. "It puts our breweries at a disadvantage because we can't brew a lot of popular styles of beer, and it puts your taste buds at a disadvantage as well, because a lot of these styles aren't available in the state."

The Flying Squirrel hosted the rally for the Fix the Beer Cap campaign, which has had events across the state. The rally featured brewers from Nashville and Chattanooga, including the Chattanooga Brewing Co., Terminal Brewhouse, Black Abbey Brewing Co., Blackstone Brewery and Jackalope.

In Tennessee, beer that has an alcohol content higher than the cap cannot be sold anywhere that does not have a liquor license, and cannot be brewed by a brewery unless they have a distilling license.

The purpose of the rally was to educate Chattanoogans about the issue, and encourage them to contact their legislators to voice their support for a bill that is expected to come up in the General Assembly in March that is intended to change the definition of beer in the state, Spaulding said. A form for people interested in contacting their legislators about the campaign is available at FixTheBeerCap.com.

And the lowest cap on beer in the region doesn't just hurt the in-state brewers.

With the recent approval by both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly of a bill to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores -- which also allows the sale of growlers in liquor stores -- the low cap could hurt the craft brew bars, like Heaven & Ale and Sturmhaus, too.

"Craft brew bars have been left out with the passage of the wine in grocery stores bill," said Joe Winland, owner of Heaven & Ale, located on the North Shore. "Bars specializing in craft beers will find themselves at at competitive disadvantage, unless the fix the beer cap legislation goes through."

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