Craft Beer Fight Outs Strange Bedfellows As Anti-Gay Group Transitions To Anti-Growth

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That time when a preacher tried to make statewide business policy.

In the last ten years North Carolina has gotten to witness the explosive growth of the craft beer movement thanks in part to the passage of the “pop the cap” law, which removed an outdated 6% abv limit on malt beverages. The removal of this policy allowed the industry to flourish, creating jobs, revitalizing neighborhoods, and bringing in tourists. Pop the cap was a sign of the progression of my home state, a sign of change in a state that (at the time) still had dry counties, and indicated a shift of culture to a more secular and modern North Carolina.

Currently many independent North Carolina brewers, led by the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild, are lobbying to remove another outdated and unnecessary law in the form of production caps on self-distributing breweries. As of now, any brewery that makes more that 775,000 gallons of beer must distribute through a wholesaler. If your annual production total is under the cap, the state allows your brewery to deliver your kegs, cans and bottles to bars, restaurants and stores using your own trucks and staff. While the limit may seem high enough to be accommodating, larger scale craft breweries like Red Oak (Triangle) and Old Mecklenburg (Charlotte) are getting dangerously close to it.

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Most states have a 3-tier law governing alcohol manufacturing, distribution and sale.

To provide perspective, in Ohio the ABC’s 3-Tier regulations allow small brewers to self distribute if they produce under 31 million gallons of beer annually. So comparatively, it looks like a non issue to amend the law and pop another cap allowing North Carolina craft beer to grow without restraint. However, some distributors are opposed to loosening restrictions, fearing a loss of business, and they have been successful in keeping politicians on their side.

Recently, the beer wholesalers have found another, and unexpected, ally in their fight to preserve the status quo. The Christian Action League, a Christian advocacy group that focuses on Alcohol, Family Issues, and “the homosexual agenda” has also taken up arms in order to fight the NC Craft Brewers Guild. With roots in the Anti-Saloon movement and Prohibition, this advocacy group finds itself strangely positioned next to what seemingly should be one of its biggest opponents in regulation.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a religious man. I do not have a doctorate in theology, nor do I profess a great knowledge of Christianity. However, I know enough to say that the Christian Action League and its director, Reverend Mark Creech, seem to have misunderstood North Carolina’s alcohol distribution and the way breweries and retailers operate. In fact, they have so egregiously missed the mark that I have to wonder what prompted them to even mention this in the first place.

The first thing to understand is that removing production caps doesn’t change much right now, as very few self-distributing breweries are nearing that limit. It would, however, provide much needed flexibility to hundreds of small business owners throughout the state of North Carolina, giving breweries the option to expand, creating more jobs and adding to the locally focused $1.3 billion NC craft beer industry. This seems like an easy win for everyone who is not lining their pockets with lobbying funds from wholesalers, who pray they can keep North Carolina beer in shackles.

Now, to take on Reverend Creech’s argument against NC Beer Rights.

Creech thinks repealing caps are unnecessary, because there’s “plenty of room” for craft beer to grow in North Carolina. But is there? Indiana had a production cap for craft brewers set at 930,000 gallons. Guess what? It was a huge a strain on growth and several brewers announced they would have to close locations if the cap wasn’t removed or increased. Indiana’s legislators listened to the industry, and they saw a need to triple the size of the caps — in the name of small business growth. The good reverend must think he is better equipped to decide who gets to grow and who doesn’t. Sound familiar?

Here is where I’d like to refer to a flat out lie. This paragraph, pulled from the CAL post, is making the claim that USA Today backed up claims from experts that higher ABV beers are ‘dangerous.’

Four years after the passage of ‘Pop the Cap’ in North Carolina, when other states were also considering lifting their limits on the alcohol content in malt beverages, USA Today reported that substance abuse experts were rightly concerned about the dangers.

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Crank Arm Brewing in Raleigh, NC.

Creech must have not read the article, because the author takes no position and even provides a lopsided amount of quotes from a Brewers Association economist who argues a very contrary concept. He then goes on to say that since the “pop the cap” passage there is evidence to show that what he warned about prior to the abv increase (the ascension of the Antichrist) is taking place in North Carolina. From how he supported that claim, one must infer that Creech thinks evidence means something other than what is observable, because he provided no data — no statistics, no studies nor any statements made by any experts on drinking, drunk driving or abuse. What he does there, by dubbing himself Nostradamus, is inflate his credibility to be able to convince you that similar things will happen if North Carolina enters beer industry modernity.

The obviously well-intentioned reverend (who is referred to as a Doctor throughout the CAL, once again to inflate his credibility) is getting back to his prophesying about the beer business.

Creech’s PR warns of the destruction of NC 3-tier, which according to him, protect you against “the harms that are inherently attached to alcoholic beverages” and have built-in “safeguards against corrupt, manipulative, or abusive industry practices.” The piece goes on to say of changing the cap, “Protections against sales to minors are lost, as well as many other abuses. Securities against contaminated or counterfeit products are lost, and an accurate means of collecting excise taxes lost.”

All of these predictions are based in fantasy and again the CAL provides zero data about what has happened in other states that adjust 3-tier law to benefit small brewers. There is also a huge omission here. What isn’t mentioned is that 3-tier regulation is mainly intended to guard against giant beer companies, like Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors, from monopolizing beer distribution.

Removing production limits on self-distributing craft breweries does not to lead to more underage drinking. It does not lead to more alcoholism. Most importantly, adjusting 3-tier, which has happened in just about every state in the union, including North Carolina, does not dismantle beer regulation. Responsible drinking is dearly important, but Reverend Creech needs to realize that breweries won’t be driving though neighborhoods handing out growlers to children. Independent breweries are required to keep just as much paperwork as distributors and will still only sell to authorized retailers.

It’s hard to read the CAL’s propaganda without incredulity. The world that Creech is imagining must be a terrifying one. There, small business owners gain the ability to compete with their long-time wholesaler bullies, and get drunk on the new power, leading to immediate tax cheating, pushing contaminated beer to minors and depositing sacks of cash into foreign banks. It is a gross and ignorant representation of good people who contribute more to North Carolina both economically and culturally than a group of hate-spewing lobbyists ever could.

What probably bothers me the most is that I know many people who have relished in the opportunity to celebrate their religion while enjoying a good beer. I’ve attended my share of “Brews and Jews” events. Maybe Reverend Creech should do some research outside of just one book. If he did, he’d discover that some of the first craft breweries were monasteries, where monks found their spirituality in abbey ales. Alcohol and religion have a profound and ancient connection. While I understand the desire to promote responsible drinking, it’s clear that the Christian Action League has aimed far off course. Were I a more suspicious man, I’d wager there might be something else going on here. I’d say that a man who calls himself a doctor is way too smart to believe the baseless arguments being made in the CAL post. I’d say that maybe the CAL sermon was inspired by a new ally, one eager to find a new way to sway the North Carolina legislature.

Let’s be real here, though. The wholesalers needing help isn’t a very swallowable concept. Craft beer in many states, even after decades of progress, is still David to their Goliath. Our breweries deserve self-determination. They should be able to choose their partners and not have them required to grow. Write your congressperson. Tell them to get out of the pockets of the people limiting their constituents. Standing up for the little guy is, after all, the Christian thing to do.

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Sam Otterbourg is a North Carolina native living in Durham.

2 Comments

  1. Bangers and Mash

    September 12, 2016 at 1:08 PM

    Creech has never been a friend to alcohol in NC. He fought as hard as he could against PTC. I would not put it past Tim Kent to have put the idea in his head the three tier system was about to collapse in North Carolina and kids would be able to buy beer in school as a result if it did. At least with Creech you know where he stands, with Kent he is working behind the scenes to undermine anything which might not be in his best interest. As both are lobbyist I would not be surprised to find out they actually spoke about Craft Beer Freedom and Kent is the one who pushed Creech to oppose. Politics make strange bedfellows indeed!

  2. William Turner

    September 16, 2016 at 2:38 PM

    The craft beer industry in NC is fortunate to have an advocate and devotee as bright and as smooth with a pen, a scribe, like Sam Otterbourg. I’ll drink one to Sam’s crisp and insightful & easy-to-read prose anyday!

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