Beer Law Mashing

What’s All the Fuss about North Carolina’s Beer Distribution Laws? Part I – The Controversy

It’s no secret. The craft beer industry is booming in North Carolina. A new brewery seems to be opening every week, and even the smallest breweries appear to be thriving.

Since 2010, the number of craft breweries in North Carolina has increased from forty-five to more than two hundred, with an estimated annual economic impact of $1.2 billion for the State.[1] This includes significant tax dollars, more than 10,000 jobs, and over $300 million in annual wages.[2]

It also includes benefits that aren’t easily quantifiable. It’s apparent from my own neighborhood—Charlotte’s NoDa—and experience, that craft breweries are helping to revitalize urban industrial districts and small towns around the State.[3] The industry is also driving tourism, as cities in North Carolina become popular “beercation” destinations within the national “beer tourism” scene.[4]

But is all this success sustainable?

Inevitably, the growth and novelty of North Carolina’s craft beer industry will regulate over time. There is only so much space on grocery store shelves and consumers are fickle, constantly chasing the next “cool” thing. But beer drinkers aren’t going away, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why our craft beer industry shouldn’t enjoy steady growth and success for years to come.

Or is there?

Despite our State’s recent success with craft beer, some believe North Carolina’s beer distribution laws are out of tune with the craft brewing industry. They say the laws have outlived their purposes and are holding back the industry or, in some cases, illegal under the State’s Constitution.[5]

Others, however, believe the laws have been serving our State well for many years. They contend the laws promote temperance for a potentially dangerous product, brewer access to retailers, fair competition, quality control, and effective tax collection.[6] Moreover, wholesalers have made significant business investments in reliance on the current regulatory scheme, as it stands.

It is easy to make snap judgments about the controversy, but if you dig a little deeper, the issues are complicated. And I don’t think most people, at least outside the beer industry, fully appreciate the nuances. Accordingly, I thought it might be useful to provide, from an attorney’s perspective, a general overview of North Carolina’s beer distribution laws and the issues involved in the controversy.

To keep my posts short and focused, I’m going to break this topic into several parts. My next post—Part II—will focus on the regulatory scheme and history of North Carolina’s three-tier system, as it applies to craft breweries and the beer industry in general. Future posts will include overviews of North Carolina’s beer franchise laws and the status of the controversy.

I appreciate the complexity on both sides of this controversy and favor a fair resolution, but one that supports the continued success and diversification of North Carolina’s craft beer industry. A thriving craft beer industry is good for North Carolina and everyone involved, and I personally enjoy having a wide variety of local breweries and beer to choose from, both in our larger cities and small towns around the State.

As with most difficult legal (and, in this case, political) issues, compromise will likely be required. But perhaps that’s obvious. I suspect the final answers will lay somewhere in the middle of the debate.

Stay tuned for “Part II—The Three-Tier System.”


[1]  NC Beer Stats, N.C. Craft Brewers Guild, https://ncbeer.org/stats/ (last visited Sept. 19, 2017).

[2]  Id.

[3]  Patrick Sisson, Craft Beer’s Big Impact on Small Towns and Forgotten Neighborhoods (June 13, 2017), https://www.curbed.com/2017/6/13/15788960/brewing-economic-development-craft-beer.

[4]  Emily Hutto, Beercation, Asheville, North Carolina, Craft Beer and Brewing Magazine (Aug. 29, 2015), https://beerandbrewing.com/beercation-asheville-north-carolina/.

[5]  See generally Craft Freedom, http://craftfreedom.org/about/ (last visited Sept. 19, 2017).

[6]  See generally North Carolina Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, http://ncbeerwine.com/ (last visited Sept. 19, 2017).

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