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Craft beer bill advances to Judiciary Committee

 

Craft beer drinkers in West Virginia are sure to raise a pint after a bill intended to enhance the state’s ale industry made its way through a Senate committee on Wednesday.

“I look forward to being able to buy growlers here sometime in the early summer,” Bob Absten, a representative of the Kanawha Regional Association of Zymurgy Enthusiasts, said after the Senate Economic Development committee approved a committee substitute that addresses a number of issues that were raised during discussions last week.

One issue that previously concerned lawmakers regarded the labeling of growlers. Should the latest version of the bill become law, the glass containers would need to have a label that would indicate the date the beer was sold, details about the actual product and where it came from.

Another issue that was raised was how to further define whether a growler technically is sealed. Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, who visited a brewpub in Pittsburgh last weekend, said although the sealing question was not solved with the committee substitute, it might further be explored when it goes to the Judiciary Committee.

Under the current version of the bill, any unsealed growler technically is considered an open container, Absten said. If someone were to obtain a growler that had been simply hand-sealed, the current bill defines that as an open container, he explained.

“We’re going to try to address that in Judiciary,” Absten said.

To try and solve the issues that were brought up during last week’s meeting, Takubo invited brewers and representatives of the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration to find ways to alter the bill.

“We wanted to make it an equal and open opportunity to everybody that was interested,” he said.

Overall the bill addresses the major concerns that were previously expressed by groups such as the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration to find ways to alter the bill.

Anoop Bhasin, who serves as general counsel for the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration, said the latest version of the bill clarifies previous questions while not discriminating against out-of-state brewing companies.

“This is edgy,” he said. “I think it’s something good for the state.”

The bill also retains a key element, which would allow brewers and brewpubs to begin selling growlers in restaurants and restaurants that are licensed to sell beer. The issue originates from a state law that says only brewpubs — businesses that brew and sell beer on location — are allowed to refill growlers.

Chuck Johnson, who represents the West Virginia Craft Brewers Guild, offered his approval of the bill on Wednesday.

“It’s really going to help the tourism industry,” he said. “Hopefully at some point we’ll have people coming to West Virginia just for the craft beer.”

“We have a very workable, very economically friendly piece of legislation,” said Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam. Walters originally attempted to advance the legislation but his bill was folded into one being advanced by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

“This will bring economic development,” Walters said. “This really opens up our craft brew industry and helps create a brand for our state.”

The bill now will head to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Contact writer Joel Ebert at joel.ebert@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4843. Follow him on twitter.com/joelebert29.