SPRINGFIELD — Craft brewers are hopping on the bandwagon in support of a proposal that would allow them to control their own distribution.

By Melissa Leu

SPRINGFIELD — Craft brewers are hopping on the bandwagon in support of a proposal that would allow them to control their own distribution.

An Illinois House committee unanimously approved the bill for craft brewers who produce less than 15,000 barrels annually, permitting them to distribute up to 7,500 barrels per year themselves. Under the proposal, craft brewers are defined as those who manufacture less than 465,000 gallons of beer a year. Put another way, that’s 4.96 million 12-ounce cans of beer, or 826,666 six packs.

The legislation, Senate Bill 754, comes after a lawsuit filed by Anheuser-Busch Inc. this past year that eliminated self-distribution for craft brewers unless lawmakers could address the issue by May 31.

State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, who sponsored the proposal in the House, said if passed, the measure would resolve in-state and out-of-state distribution practices, which were raised in the lawsuit.

“It removes the in-state preference, while maintaining a limited right to self-distribute that is intended to allow the small producers to develop successful markets,” Mautino said.

Anheuser-Busch questioned the fairness of prohibiting out-of-state beer producers — but allowing in-state producers — from distributing directly to retailers.

Robert Myers, a lobbyist for the Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois, said his trade organization that advocates on behalf of the state’s beer distributors has given up a lot in negotiations for the measure, but continues to support the idea.

“What Senate Bill 754 is designed to do is to address what the court found to be the unconstitutional matter of the law,” Myers said.

Not all craft brewers, however, were on board with the changes.

David Stricklin, lobbyist for Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, voiced “reluctant opposition” to the measure. He said it was a good result for small brewers, but the measure didn’t go far enough for brew-pub operators.

“What a brew-pub operator is trying to do is maximize the production they have on site already. They’re not looking to build a new brewery to self-distribute,” Stricklin said.

The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild promotes “the development and expansion of the craft beer industry” throughout the state, according to its website.

Instead, Stricklin said brew pubs would rather continue to run their brewery and distribute to a small portion of the market without a middle man. Brew pubs are bars or restaurants that sell their beer to customers in-house.

Under the proposal, beer pubs must build a second, separate brewing facility before they are allowed to self-distribute.

Rolling Meadows Brewery owner Chris Trudeau hasn’t opened his microbrewery in Springfield yet, but noted that self-distribution would be essential to his business.

“It would really affect our business plan as a brewery. Instead of just being able to make the kegs on our farm … and drive it downtown, we’d have to send it to distributors,” said Trudeau.

When asked by the panel if he would wait for the court to release its final decision before calling the plan for a vote, Mautino refused.

“Holding the bill does damage to what the judge asked us to do (pass it by May 31), so my intent is to run the bill,” Mautino said.

A similar plan to expand a 5,000-gallon cap for craft distillers to 15,000 gallons also was unanimously passed out of committee. In Illinois, craft distillers can only manufacture liquor in small quantities.

Both proposals are headed to the House for a vote.

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