When legislation was passed in 2009 raising the state’s maximum permitted alcohol level for beer from 6 percent to 12 percent by volume, there were a total of three craft breweries in West Virginia.
Currently, that number is approaching 30 statewide, and West Virginia Craft Brewers Guild president Aaron Rote is optimistic that newly passed legislation (Senate Bill 529) to further ease restrictions on the industry will lead to a second wave of growth.
“For the industry, what a lot of the changes do is make us more competitive with our surrounding states, and bring us up to what most modern craft beer law is,” said Rote, who is co-founder and co-owner of Short Story Brewing Co. in Rivesville.
Changes in the legislation, which is pending Gov. Jim Justice’s signature, include:
- Raising the maximum ABV from 12 percent to 15 percent.
- Eliminating a two-growler-per-customer limit, and raising the maximum permitted growler size from 64 to 128 ounces.
- Creating a temporary floor plan extension license to allow craft brewers to hold outdoor events on brewpub or brewery grounds or parking areas.
- Creating one-day special licenses to allow nonprofit organizations to have beer sales during events. (Rote said craft breweries frequently are asked to provide beer sales at events, but said the current licensing process is too onerous for most associations.)
- Eliminating bond requirements for brewers, resident brewers, distributors and brew pubs.
- Requiring the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration to act within 30 days on license applications, instead of acting within a “reasonable time” as stated in current law.
Rote said he was somewhat surprised the legislation passed on its first try, but said he believes the industry has shown over the past decade that it is deserving of having more freedom and fewer regulations and restrictions.
“There’s a lot of talk about how chaotic state politics are, but the experience for us was positive. Everyone listened to our concerns,” he said.
“We’ve done a good job of being in compliance, advancing the industry and putting West Virginians to work,” he added. “We felt it was time to let us grow as much as possible.”
While some legislators expressed concern that raising the alcohol level would result in increased problems with intoxicated individuals, Rote said beers in the 12-15 percent ABV range generally are higher priced, highly complex specialty brews.
“Where you tend to have problems is with the very cheap products available in large quantities,” he said.
Rote said that while craft breweries in the state have grown tenfold in the past decade, there is plenty of opportunity for additional growth statewide.
He said the growth of the state’s craft beer industry benefits state tourism, and said it is a particularly good match with daytime activities such as skiing or whitewater rafting.
“If you go to any of these venues, right now, there’s probably at least one craft brewery there,” he said.
“Personally, when I visit a new town, the first things I want to know are, ‘Where is a good brewery and where is a good restaurant?’ ” Rote added.
Rote said the guild’s goal is to continue working with state government and the Division of Tourism to promote the connection between the two industries.
“This is a homegrown industry, with people from West Virginia opening small businesses and creating jobs for West Virginians,” he said.