Arizona craft brewers had hoped they could persuade state lawmakers to give them more flexibility when it came to the amount of beer they could brew under a microbrewery license.
They were wrong.
After months of lobbying and negotiating – much of it done quietly by a few of the state’s largest brewers – lawmakers were only willing to give in on one request: to allow the brewers to sell beer in growlers made of something other than glass.
“We got blown out of the water,” says Barrio Brewing Co./Gentle Ben’s Brewing Co. owner Dennis Arnold, who was on the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild negotiating committee.
“We all came forward with the same ideals and, unfortunately, we kind of got shot down,” added Tristan White of Dragoon Brewing Co., who also was part of the guild committee. “But from Dragoon’s point, it was the first time we ever lobbied for the guild so I think there’s some good takeaways from that. I think we’re in a good position and we’re hopeful for next year.”
The guild, with 45 member brewers, plans to try again next year, said President Steve Tracy, who owns Thunder Canyon Brewery.
The craft brewers’ proposal was part of the omnibus Senate Bill 1397, a sweeping revamp of the state’s wine and beer producing licensure program that lawmakers passed late Wednesday.
The guild hired a lobbyist and drafted proposed amendments to the state’s craft brewing license that included increasing the production cap — to 40,000 barrels a year from 20,000 — without requiring brewers to get a producer’s license. The microbrewing license allows breweries to sell their beer retail; the producer’s license requires they sell wholesale through a distributor.
State Liquor Department records list 66 licensed breweries in the state and most of them are nowhere near reaching the current 20,000 barrel cap, Tracy said. (Thunder Canyon produced 2,000 barrels last year, he said.) But the state’s two largest craft brewers — Four Peaks Brewing Co. of Tempe and SanTan Brewing Co. of Chandler — are bumping up against that cap, he said.
Increasing the production cap would have allowed Arizona craft breweries to market their beers outside of the state like Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing Co. (Fat Tire), which is distributed nationwide.
“Out-of-town breweries can bring in as much as they want from out of state, but we’re limited,” said Tracy.
“It’s good for the state, good for the economy if they could expand. But it’s not fair for the people who work (in the breweries) to have to give up their retail operation.”
The guild also wanted flexibility for more brewery collaborations and the ability to sell Arizona wines in their retail shops.
“I think we were asking for too much because everyone was throwing in their Christmas wish list and we got slaughtered,” said Arnold, who helped launch the guild in 1998. “... The only thing that ended up in this bill was the growler. ... They bent over backward to give us stainless steel growlers.”