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As Sierra Nevada eyes Tennessee expansion, legislature weighs high-alcohol pilot program

May 17, 2011 By: mike Category: Beer in the news, Breweries, Craft beer, Memphis

Tennessee Senate

The chambers of the Tennessee Senate.

The Tennessee Senate is considering an amendment that would allow a pilot program to brew high-alcohol beer at selected breweries in each of the state’s three “grand divisions.” The plan, however, would exclude other brewers, prompting concerns that it would put craft breweries at a competitive disadvantage in Tennessee.

The amendment, which would be added to bill SB 1224, comes as Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is reportedly eying East Tennessee and the town of Alcoa for an eastern expansion of its brewing operations.

The senate amendment would authorize three breweries in the state — one each in West, Middle and East Tennessee — to brew beer between 5 to 20 percent alcohol by weight through a pilot program. As it currently stands, Tennessee law does not allow beer to be brewed above 5 % ABW.

Will this be brewed soon in Tennessee?

One of those breweries referred to in the amendment, Nashville’s Yazoo Brewing Company in Middle Tennessee, is already allowed to brew high-alcohol beers through a separate distillery license granted by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. It’s the only brewery in the state that has such a license, and the senate bill would just give additional legislative ratification to that operation.

Meanwhile, in Memphis in West Tennessee, the amendment specifies that a facility with “annual capacity to manufacture … a combination of at least two million barrels of beer and high alcohol content  beer” would be included in the pilot program.

That facility is the former Coors brewery on East Raines recently purchased by Wisconsin-based City Brewing, which will operate as a contract brewery. Ghost River Brewing and Boscos, Memphis’ two craft breweries, would not be able to brew high-alcohol beer under the proposal.

Finally, in East Tennessee, the amendment refers to a brewery in a municipality of 7,700-7,800 people, reportedly a reference Alcoa, home to aluminum manufacturer Alcoa Inc.

Chico, Calif.-based Sierra Nevada, the nation’s No. 2 craft brewer, has been looking for a new eastern U.S. headquarters and has apparently selected Alcoa as a potential site.

“It is true we are looking for a new facility in the East, although, no final decisions have been made as to whether we ARE in fact going to build,” Sierra Nevada spokesman Bill Manley said in a statement Monday. “Nevertheless, we’ve narrowed our search down to a handful of locations and we are doing our due diligence in finding the best spot for our company moving forward. That said, one of the requirements for us in any site is to be able to brew and sell the full lineup of our beers. All of the states on our final lists either A) Have laws that would already allow us to do what we are doing here in Chico or B) Are working on amendments to state laws that would allow us to brew and sell our beer.” [source]

Sierra Nevada would not be able to brew its full lineup of beers if the 5% ABW cap remained in place, and Manley said the senate amendment is an attempt to make Tennessee “more attractive as a potential site for our Eastern facility.” But Sierra Nevada insists that the bill is “very fluid” and the company does not want to harm Tennessee’s craft brewers.

We have communicated to Tennessee officials encouraging them to take a ‘do no harm’ tactic in allowing craft brewers across the state, wherever they may be, to brew whatever type of beer they see fit. Sierra Nevada has always supported the notion that what’s good for craft brewing is good for us all. We want to ensure the craft brewing environment across the country is healthy, vibrant and strong,” Manley said.

Chuck Skypeck, founding partner of Memphis-based Roma Pomodori Inc., the parent company of Ghost River Brewing and Boscos Brewing Co., told Andy Ashby of the Memphis Business Journal that the opportunity to make higher-alcohol beers — which allows for the brewing of different styles of beer — should not be taken away from craft brewers in Tennessee. Doing so, he said, would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

I have no problem with breweries coming to Tennessee and with competition, I just want the same treatment,” Skypeck said. “I know a lot of other craft brewers feel the same way.” [source]

Meanwhile, in a blog post that sheds more light on the potential impact of the amendment, Yazoo Brewing Company founder Linus Hall said he’s had “zero” input into the wording of the bill and that Yazoo has gotten “caught up in the drama of two relatively huge out-of-state brewers trying to influence” Tennessee law.

There are good parts and bad parts to this bill. The good: high alcohol beer manufacturers will be able to sample and sell high-alcs in the same facility where they are made. It would end the silly restrictions against selling growlers to go if you serve high-alcohol beer. It would allow the brewers to operate a restaurant and serve high-alc alongside regular strength beer, and still sell growlers to-go of both types of beer.

The bad: well, that’s obvious. It only authorizes three brewers to be part of this “pilot project”. We were only included at the last second because we already hold a distiller’s license to brew high-alc beer, and the bill ratifies the ABC director’s decision to grant us one last year. [source]

Any thoughts on this? Please leave a comment below.

2 Comments to “As Sierra Nevada eyes Tennessee expansion, legislature weighs high-alcohol pilot program”


  1. I hear they’ll discuss it today on the senate floor between 1:30 and 3:30.
    Here’s the senate video link:
    http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/videowrapper/default.aspx?CommID=63

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