A rally today at Local Gastropub in Midtown Memphis, from 7 to 9 p.m., will kick off the effort, with rallies in other cities to follow.
In Tennessee, beer is defined as a fermented malt beverage containing 5% or less alcohol by weight. That definition means any beer over that limit — which includes many styles of beers, from Belgians to IPAs to stouts — are defined as “high-gravity” beers and can only be purchased in liquor stores.
“There are only 560 licensed liquor stores in Tennessee, and many of them either don’t carry high-gravity beers, or else relegate them to a hot, dusty shelf,” wrote Guild president Linus Hall, owner of Nashville’s Yazoo Brewing Co., in an e-mail announcing the campaign.
“If, as a consumer and craft beer lover, you want a greatly improved beer selection in Tennessee, we need to change this. If you want your local brewers to spread their creative wings and brew a wider range of beers, we need to change this. Many of your favorite out-of-state brewers don’t send much of their high-gravity beers to Tennessee due to the limited number of places they can be sold. And while a few Tennessee brewers have brewed high-gravity beers, most have focused on lower gravity beers, which can reach the largest number of customers.”
Recent reforms in Mississippi and Alabama have made Tennessee’s 5% cap the “most regressive” of any state in the Southeast, according to Hall.
“Tennessee has long prided itself on being business-friendly, but this arbitrarily low cap on beer puts us out of step with our neighboring states and hurts local brewers,” Hall wrote.
Hall said the Guild is waging its campaign in 2014 on two legislative fronts.
First, the Guild is pushing for an amendment to be included on the “wine-in-grocery stores” bill that would allow “high-gravity beer” to be sold wherever wine is sold. While the amendment would not change the definition of “beer,” it would open up distribution of high-gravity beers into grocery stores.
Hall also said the Guild has sponsors in the state Senate and the House who will be submitting bills to reform the definition of what “beer” is. The Beer Cap Reform Act of 2014 would raise the limit on alcohol in beer from 5% to 12%.
At today’s rally at Local Gastropub, for a $20 donation, you can get a Tennessee Craft Brewers Guild 20-ounce mug and samples of beers from Memphis brewers.
Rallies are also scheduled on Friday , Jan. 31, at the Flying Saucer in Nashville, and Friday, Feb. 7, at the Central Flats and Taps in Knoxville.
In 2013, the Guild successfully campaigned to “Fix the Beer Tax,” reforming Tennessee’s beer wholesale tax in a move that helped smaller craft brewers.