Chattanooga craft brewers and beer sellers plan to expand their customers' palates in the new year.
On Jan. 1, a new Tennessee law increases the alcohol by volume (ABV) cap for beer from 6.2 percent to 10.1 percent. It also opens the door for grocers and convenience stores to sell high-alcohol — also known as high-gravity — beer. Until now, only liquor stores or restaurants and pubs with liquor licenses could do that.
Chattanooga Brewing Co. co-owner Jonathan Clark said he couldn't be more pleased, citing the campaign efforts by the Tennessee Brewers Guild to change the laws.
"We're obviously very happy to see this happen," Clark said. "It gives us slightly more parity with out-of-state brewers."
Being able to make the real deal when it comes to high-gravity beers that fall in the 7-10 percent ABV range is a major milestone, he said.
"We can make a pretty good approximation [with a lower ABV beer], but it's not the same thing," Clark said.
Food City parent K-VA-T Food Stores Inc. also has voiced excitement over new high-gravity beer opportunities. The grocery chain played a key role in supporting petition efforts to allow wine sales in grocery stores in the Chattanooga area.
Mickey Blazer, executive vice president of operations of the company's Knoxville/Chattanooga division, especially praised craft beer offerings.
"The greatest advantage and what beer drinkers are most excited about is the fact that we will be able to now sell more craft beers," Blazer said. "We will now be able to sell hot packages such as Bell's Two-Hearted, Dogfish 90 Minute, Lagunitas Maximus, Terrapin Hopsecutioner IPA, just to name a few. There are numerous items that the higher ABV limit will allow us to bring in or make available for our customers."
The new law will also allow the chain to increase its access to limited batch brews and unique offerings available at store growler stations, Blazer said. Some of the small batch offerings have never been sold by the chain before.
Domestic and flavored malt beverages will also get a boost from the new regulations, with many items converting from low-gravity to high-gravity products, he said. Examples included Bud Light Ritas, Steel Reserve and value beers such as Icehouse.
In other instances, Food City will extend current brand lines to include higher ABV products, Blazer said. In addition to carrying Redd's Apple Ale, the chain will soon offer Redd's Wicked Ale, and Mike's Lemonade will extend to varieties of Mike's Harder Lemonade.
Beer resets will begin next week in the stores and take place over the next two to three weeks, Blazer said. Chattanooga stores will be part of the conversion, although some stores may be a little slower due to remodeling and construction schedules.
Imbibe, a downtown specialty wine, spirits and beer store located at 1616 Broad St., is ready to see the high-gravity beer market expand in the city.
Calvin Cummings, Imbibe's beer specialist, said it comes down to accessibility and awareness for the customer, citing high-gravity craft beer success stories in Asheville, N.C., and other places.
"I don't think the success of high-gravity beer is unique to those other places," Cummings said. "Once people in Chattanooga take the risk, demand will meet the supply."
Cummings recalled major craft beer events where he saw vendors briskly selling $12 bottles of beer by the case — hundreds of cases, in fact. He said he believes that kind of market can be forged in Chattanooga.
"This is what needs to happen for the market to grow, for people to be aware of what they can get," Cummings said concerning the fresh arrival of never-before-sold high-gravity beers on the shelves of grocery and convenience stores.
Cummings said he is not worried the availability of high-gravity beers at those stores will hurt Imbibe. Offering a deeper understanding and experience of craft beers will draw consumers with a growing and adventurous taste for them, he said.
"The most dependable, most engaging part of our business is our customers," Cummings said. "Between them and our staff there exists an ongoing conversation about beer, wine, spirits, food and the culture surrounding. I do not expect that conversation to walk out the door on Jan. 1, no matter what laws pass. And we will welcome any and all to the conversation if they would like to join."
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.