A bill that will raise the alcohol cap on beer in Tennessee in 2017 was approved today by the state House of Representatives in a 72-12 vote.
The bill, which was approved last week by the state Senate and now heads to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature, was spearheaded by the Tennessee Craft Brewer’s Guild through its “Fix the Beer Cap” campaign.
In Tennessee, beer has traditionally been defined as a fermented malt beverage containing 5% or less alcohol by weight. That definition means any beers over that limit — which includes many styles of beers, from Belgians to IPAs to stouts — are considered “high-gravity” beers and can only be purchased in liquor stores.
The bill will increase the 5% limit to 8% ABW. In terms most beer drinkers are familiar with, instead of the current 6.2 alcohol by volume limit, beers up to 10.1% ABV will be allowed on shelves anywhere beer is sold.
An earlier proposal would have increased the ABW limit to 12%, but that was lowered as part of a compromise.
Another concession was this: the bill does not take effect until Jan. 1, 2017, meaning it will be two-and-a-half years before higher-gravity beers are sold outside of liquor stores, and six months after the first bottles of wine are allowed in grocery stores.
“Yes, this is a compromise as far as how high the cap was raised and the timeline for doing so. The committee members indicated to our sponsors that our bills were going nowhere until there was a compromise between the brewers and beer wholesalers on one side, and the liquor retailers and wholesalers on the other,” according to the Fix the Beer Cap Facebook page.
The bill will also have another effect — you’ll likely see more higher-gravity beers sold in Tennessee breweries. The bill included an amendment that allows brewers who hold a high-gravity brewing license to sell high-gravity beers at their breweries without additional licenses, starting July 1, 2014.
Linus Hall, president of the Tennessee Craft Brewers Guild, took to Twitter to celebrate the bill’s passage.
“Progress is progress,” he wrote. “I’ll be drinking to that tonight.”