The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Study Commission will soon determine which two states with “responsible and progressive alcoholic beverage laws” that it will visit.

The commission shall visit two states deemed by the commission to have the most responsible and progressive alcoholic beverage laws in the United States. The commission shall interview state agencies in those states that are responsible for the enforcement and manufacturing, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages in those states (Act 2015-144).

There is one nearby state that perfectly matches these requirements – North Carolina.

A recent history of change

[pullquote]North Carolina legislators and regulators have struck the right balance in providing an opportunity for incubator breweries to grow while, at the same time, recognizing that beer and other alcoholic beverages are unique products that need to be marketed and distributed in a responsible manner.
Tim Kent, North Carolina Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association[/pullquote]

In 1985, Uli Bennewitz convinced the North Carolina General Assembly to allow microbreweries to sell their own beer directly to consumers. Today, the Tar Heel state has more than 120 breweries and brewpubs. This means that state agencies now have 30 years of data with which to examine the effect of direct sales to the three-tier system and the local economy.

More recently, in 2012, North Carolina passed an exemption to the beer franchise law for small brewers. This gives state officials 3 years of history with which to evaluate franchise law reform.

This alone make North Carolina an ideal state for Alabama legislators to visit. The two issues on our legislative agenda are expanding direct sales (see SB214) and exempting small brewers from the beer franchise law (see SB128). North Carolina officials are uniquely placed to have an opinion on how those two changes have affected their landscape.

An attractive environment for economic development

North Carolina is doing something right with its brewing industry. In addition to more than 120 home-grown breweries and brewpubs, in the last 4 years they have been very successful at attracting west-coast craft brewers to the region.

In January 2012, California-based Sierra Nevada Brewing Co opened a $107 million production site in North Carolina for its east coast branch. The year before, North Carolina lawmakers eased direct sales restrictions to attract the craft beer giant.

In December 2012, Colorado-based Oskar Blues Brewing Co brewed its first batch at the new, $12 million brewery in Brevard, NC.

By the end of 2015, New Belgium Brewing Co is expected to open its 133,000 square foot brewery and a 141,000 square foot distribution center in North Carolina. This is the second major facility for the 3rd largest craft brewer in the United States, which is headquartered in Fort Collins, CO. It will distribute 500,000 bbls per year from the new facility and employ approximately 140 direct jobs.

North Carolina beer wholesalers are happy

While we are especially pleased that the North Carolina legal environment is favorable to breweries, other industry members also appear to be pleased. A May 2014 Op-Ed by Tim Kent of the North Carolina Beer & Wholesalers Association praised the state’s alcoholic beverage laws and commitment to the three-tier system.

There’s also a unique Alabama relationship in North Carolina. In 2012, Adams Beverage of east Alabama acquired distribution rights in the Charlotte, NC market. The fact that an Alabama wholesaler entered the market attests to the state’s unique suitability as a place for the commission to consider.