Brew Baby Brew

By - May 31, 2011 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

Tennessee is poised to “legalize” brewing of high alcohol content beer. Much to the surprise of Tennessee beer brewers, a bill before the state legislature earlier this year would have outlawed brewing high alcohol beer for most breweries.

Like many of its liquor laws, Tennessee has an odd rule about beer. Regular beer is beer that has an alcoholic content of 5% or less by weight. Don’t confuse this with the alcoholic content by volume, which can push the measurement to nearly 7%.

In Tennessee, any beer over 5% by weight is an alcoholic beverage, taxed at a higher rate, sold through liquor distributors and not available for sale at groceries and convenience stores. Called high alc beer by many in the industry, high alc beer can only be purchased at package stores and at restaurants and bars, after payment of additional taxes that push the price up considerably.

In most states, and at the federal level, there is no distinction between high alc and regular beer. Both are treated and taxed the same.

The Scoop.

We represented a city that was trying to recruit a brewery to locate in Tennessee. We wanted to clarify that brewing high alc beer was legal. Most folks thought it was, and Nashville brewery Yazoo had a permit and was brewing a high alc beer called “Sue.” But the law was not entirely clear. The law allowed manufacturers to “distill,” but not brew alcohol, and high alc beer was not listed among the products that were defined as alcoholic beverages under state law.

Some important folks thought differently about the legality of brewing high alc beer, and a squabble ensued. After the dust settled, a bill was passed that allows breweries to obtain a special license to brew high alc beer, as well as some other privileges. We expect the governor will sign the bill into law soon.

Lipman Brothers Picks Up Blockbuster Brands

By - May 26, 2011 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

Nashville liquor wholesaler Lipman Brothers is poised to become the largest single liquor wholesaler in the State of Tennessee. Starting August 1, 2011, Lipman will acquire all of the brands of Tennessee Wine & Spirits, including Crown Royal, Smirnoff, Jägermeister, Evan Williams, Seagram’s 7 Crown and Grey Goose. These will join Jack Daniels, Bacardi, José Cuervo and Tanqueray Gin at Lipman.

Lipman will begin consolidating operations on August 1 and expects to have all the inventory shipping from Lipman within two weeks.

The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission approved the transaction yesterday at its regular meeting on May 25, 2011.

Foreign Passport Proof of 21 Age for Booze?

By - May 24, 2011 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

Chipotle Mexican Grill is at the center of a brewing debate about the validity of foreign passports as proof of age for beer and liquor sales. Having recently been hammered in the press over employment of illegal Mexican immigrants, the Mexican-themed chain has stepped into another briar patch.

According to news reports. Laurencio Valadez, a Mexican national, said a Chipotle store manager rejected his Mexican passport as proof of his identity and age, saying several times that only a U.S. passport would be acceptable, according to a legal complaint filed against the company.

“My client felt particularly humiliated being a Mexican, at a self-advertised Mexican grill, who was denied service,’ Bruce Nestor, a lawyer for Valadez, now 39, said in an interview.

We understand the difficulty of monitoring the validity of 50 different state driver’s licenses as proof of age. Requiring that passports from other countries be accepted makes the job significantly harder.

We will watch this case, as it may impose a duty to accept foreign passports as proof of age.

For now, we encourage licensees to use common sense. If a customer presents a foreign passport and appears to be 21 or younger, try to obtain another age ID or refuse service. If the customer with the foreign passport appears to be older, like the 39 year old Mexican plaintiff, let him belly up to the bar.

Federal Calorie Labeling Not to Include Booze?

By - May 19, 2011 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

The FDA says that the impending mandatory calorie labeling requirement will not apply to alcoholic beverages. Plans are to require all restaurants with 20 or more locations to post calorie counts on menus and menu boards in 2012.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “the new regulations will mean that the calorie counts of everything from a Chipotle burrito to a Starbucks Frappuccino must be posted in a font size that is ‘clear and conspicuous’ and color that’s ‘at least as conspicuous as’ the print listing the menu item, according to the agency’s guidance.”

But booze seems to be the exception, despite claims that alcohol is a big source of empty calorie consumption among Americans.

Smaller chains and independent restaurants should follow the menu labeling debate, as many observers believe the rules may eventually be expanded to include all food purveyors.