Beer in West Virginia
This Saturday, June 20th marks West Virginia’s 152nd birthday, and also means that we’re not far removed from the halfway point of 2015. Each gives us reasons to celebrate and reasons to reflect. And, as a visitor to this particular blog might deduce, the reasons I’ll write about are quite serious, and relate to beer.
First, let’s take a quick peek back at all the wonderful beer news that has transpired (obviously, not many have been discussed on this much too-dormant blog):
- The biggest news! On my last post many months ago, I described the proposed craft beer legislation that our state’s lawmakers were considering. Ultimately, Bill 273 passed and became effective just a few short days ago, on June 12. Growler sales are now possible outside of a brewery, and Morgantown establishments such as Iron Horse, Black Bear and (soon) Apothecary Ales will filling your 64oz glass jug with great beer – to go! The bill also benefits small craft brewers by reducing license fees and allowing brewery visitors to sample available beers.
- In April, Chestnut Brew Works opened its much-anticipated Morgantown taproom. I’ve visited the cozy but welcoming space twice so far, with more trips surely to come. It’s a nice addition to Morgantown’s small brewery scene, and the Halleck Pale Ale (etc.) keeps tasting better and better..
- As a sign of the amazing enthusiasm that fellow West Virginians have for WV craft beer, Huntington’s Rails and Ales Fest – which had increased the amount of tickets available this year – sold out in less than 30 minutes.
- Our craft beer options are expanding, with more out-of-state breweries showing up on shelves, including Ommegang (try the Hennepin Saison!) and Anchor Brewing (the WV return).
And there is much left to celebrate in 2015, so here are a few things to look forward to:
- WV Day Celebrations! Apothecary Ale House is hosting its 3rd Annual WV Day celebration, which will feature special WV beers. I attended this event last year, and it was a lot of fun – details are available on the link above.
- New WV breweries! Stumptown Ales in Davis, WV appears that it will open any day now, and word is that three total brewery licenses are pending..
- ..And you might get a chance to try some new WV brews at the Brew Skies Festival on August 21-22nd at Timberline Resort! Tickets are still available, and the festival features great music, as well.
- Welcoming outsiders: Oskar Blues has announced that it is expanding distribution into WV. A pioneer of craft beer in cans, their Dale’s Pale is a canned, craft beer icon!
- Speaking of cans: more WV breweries are distributing cans throughout the state! Greenbrier Valley, Mountain State, and (sometime in the future) Morgantown Brewing are or will be canning their beers for your to-go plans.
Many things have changed in the WV craft beer just within the last year, and I’m happy to be here for the experience! What else can we look forward to, WV craft beer fans? Feel free to comment or tweet it @mtnbeers.
January has provided a flurry of proposed legislation promoting the craft beer business in West Virginia. Within the last week, three separate bills were proposed, each revising and adding language to the current framework. As each bill was proposed by different senators, each differs in content.
First, I’ll provide my understanding* of the current laws that will be affected by these bills, as it is helpful to know the background:
- Only brewpubs can sell two growlers per day; brewers and restaurants are not permitted to sell growlers (see Black Sheep/Charleston Brewing issue);
- Brewers are not permitted to offer product samples for consumption at the place of manufacture;
- WV-based breweries must pay an annual license fee of $1500; this is a flat fee that does not vary based upon production. Non-resident brewers pay the same $1500 fee, and brewpubs owe a $1000 annual fee.
- Brewers and brewpubs must furnish a bond to the state to secure payment of taxes (etc.)
Each bill offers its own benefits to West Virginia’s craft beer industry, but not each bill provides the same degree of change for this high-growth industry. Below I’ve listed changes that provide the greatest amount of benefit and flexibility to the state’s craft brewers (in my humblest of opinions):
- Bill 273 would allow brewers and brewpubs to sell up to four growlers per customer/per day. Next year’s Super Bowl party could be totally stocked with fresh, local craft beer!
- Bill 273 would permit brewers to offer two ounce samples at the brewery, capped at 10 samples per person/per day. Notably, the brewer would then need to be licensed as a retailer and provide complimentary food (type unspecified; presumably, snacks would be fine) as well. Contrast this with Bill 290, which allows 2.5 ounce samples but caps the per person total at 16 ounces. Good luck to brewers who try measuring out the maximum of 6.4 samples!
- Bill 273 introduces a tiered, production-based license fee scheme for resident brewers. Those producing less than 12500 barrels of beer annually would pay $500, those producing between 12501-25000 barrels annually would owe $1000, and, finally, those producing greater than 25000 barrels annually would pay $1500 (though, strangely, the latter category would seem to be prohibited entirely by new language added in 11-16-6a(e) of the bill). However, this tiered structure would also require brewers to produce annual projections of production, as well as an additional annual report stating actual barrels produced.
- Bill 273 removes the bond requirement for brewpubs (only).
- Bill 290 establishes a communication mechanism whereby licensees and license applicants can request information such as application status (etc.), and the state must respond within one business day.
- Bill 290 reduces the annual brewpub license fee to $400.
- Bill 297 appears to greatly expand growler sales, and would seemingly solve the Black Sheep/Charleston Brewing situation by allowing growler sales by all Class A and Class B retailers who obtain a proposed $60 Class G endorsement. In addition permitting growler sales in taverns and restaurants, this would also seemingly permit grocery stores (with a few basic qualifications) to sell growlers. This is common in larger stores in the Pittsburgh area, such as Whole Foods and the GE Market District. Note: Although growler sales would be greatly expanded, this bill also requires labels for growlers with beer name, ABV, and certain information about the retailer. This will add an extra, potentially annoying step for retailers to manage when selling growlers. I’ve seen this handled in other states by affixing a tag around the neck of the growler that contains the required detail.
All proposed legislation is now being considered by the Committee on Economic Development during the 60-day legislative session; hopefully, our legislators agree on changes with the most positive impact on the industry. WV craft beer enthusiasts should be pleased that this topic is receiving much-needed attention, as these changes will fuel continued growth of WV small businesses that happen to sell craft beer.
(And, since the topic is being discussed, I hope also that the state’s 12% abv cap on beer is revisited; folks in our neighboring State of Ohio might have some important advice on the subject! Moreover, there appear to be no changes in regard to non-resident brewers who wish to sell in WV; becoming licensed to sell in WV has been described as “extremely difficult” by one prominent craft brewer).
Cheers to positive change!
*I spent some QT with the proposed bills, and how they modified existing law, but I certainly can’t claim to be an expert. Please feel free to comment if something is unclear or inaccurate, and I’ll happily revisit/research the bills.
If your New Year’s resolution is to increase your Untappd check-ins, or simply to expand your beer-tasting horizons, there is hope: more breweries will soon be distributing in West Virginia. As several 2014 news snippets indicated, the following options should soon be available on our local store shelves:
- Bell’s Brewery, maker of the epic Two-Hearted IPA, and many other excellent beers (in spite of West Virginia’s regulations being “extremely difficult” to navigate, according to Bell’s Founder).
- Devil’s Backbone, the Great American Beer Fest’s 2014 “Mid-Sized Brewer of the Year,” will add WV as part of its large expansion.
- DuClaw Brewing, which goes by a “craft be cherished, rules be damned” motto while brewing creative favorites such as Sweet Baby Jesus, a chocolate peanut butter porter (look for it by this May).
- Kona Brewing, a Hawaii-based brewery with plans to expand to all 50 states by summer of 2015.
- Terrapin Beer, brewer of the delicious Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout, with a release party apparently coming very soon to Summit Beer Station in Huntington.
With the craft beer boom showing no signs of stopping, we should expect to see more (including WV-based breweries) throughout the year. And if you know of others not listed, feel free to share the good news in the comments section.
Happy New Year to all!