Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Monday formally signed into law bills that will expand craft beer sales and provide special funds to promote tourism in the Mountain State.
Introducing the bills, Tomblin called for more support to the craft beer industry, which he said is one of the fastest growing niche markets in West Virginia. There are currently 11 craft breweries around the state, a number that has tripled in the last decade. About 6,000 barrels of beer were produced last year.
Tomblin also said the state would see a return on its investments in tourism as the industry generates more than $5 billion in revenue annually while supporting 46,000 jobs.
“The Mountain State truly has something for everyone, and the two pieces of legislation we are celebrating today help us capitalize on everything that makes the Mountain State a great place to call home,” he said.
The ceremonial bill signing at the Governor’s reception room in the Capitol was attended by state lawmakers, tourism officials and craft brewers.
The craft beer bill, as it was termed after Tomblin proposed it during his January State of the State address, was sponsored by Senate President Bill Cole and Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler. It received bipartisan support in both legislative chambers, passing the Senate and House 32-2 and 87-11, respectively.
Proponents of the legislation called it an economic development bill, saying the state would experience additional tourism. Annual craft beer festivals around the state, such as the Rails and Ales craft beer festival in Huntington and the Mountaineer Brewfest in Wheeling, are perennial sell-outs, attracting thousands of visitors from neighboring states.
In his State of the State address, Tomblin cited West Virginia’s growing craft beer industry, saying that entrepreneurs must be encouraged to “put their skills to work without the burden of unnecessary state restrictions.”
While brewpubs, under old state law, were allowed to sell growlers — 64-ounce take-home containers — state code prohibited restaurants offering craft beer on tap from doing so.
Under those restrictions, profits for local breweries and restaurants that sell craft beer have taken a hit.
Last year, Black Sheep Burritos and Brews in Charleston was forced to cease selling growlers after state inspectors ruled the restaurant was doing so illegally. The restaurant operates out of the same building as Charleston Brewing Company, but remains a separate business under different ownership.
The new law, in addition to permitting retail growler sales, also lowers licensing fees and other requirements.
Brian Arnett, owner of Mountain State Brewing, spoke at Monday’s signing and said allowing breweries to sell growlers in retail settings will improve business for every beermaker because most only distribute by the keg, which he said is not convenient for the average consumer to purchase.
He expects a boost to business when the law goes into effect on June 12.
At the signing ceremony, Tomblin also announced a statewide craft beer week from Aug. 15-22.
Tomblin also signed a bill that will increase advertising funding for the state Division of Tourism, allowing the state to promote “Wild, Wonderful West Virginia” in neighboring states, Washington, D.C. and select international markets.
The bill, which passed the Senate and House almost unanimously, sets aside funds solely to be used for marketing, advertising and public relations efforts that promote travel and tourism in West Virginia.
It also sets up a courtesy patrol fund that will provide assistance to motorists traveling the state’s highways.