Opinion and Viewpoint

BANKS: Hop the red tape for craft beer

September 21, 2013

BanksAs a legislator, I know from experience that some policy topics are more fun to discuss than others. I’ve served a variety of roles in the Senate, and all of them have had their own share of debate and consideration.

But no matter how divisive the committee discussions, we can all agree on our love for Hoosier-grown businesses and products. For me, that includes craft beer.

In 2012, 409 craft breweries opened in the U.S. That’s been reported as the largest increase in brewery openings since the 1880s. As the number of breweries grew, so did the number of job opportunities. Small brewing companies employ over 100,000 people across the country. With these advancements, craft breweries have captured a 10.2 percent share of beer sales.

Indiana isn’t left out of these trends. Our state has 68 craft breweries, ranking 14th. Last year, Hoosier craft brewers produced enough beer to generate a 27-percent growth rate—19th-highest in the country. We’re also home to one of the nation’s fastest growing breweries: Sun King Brewing Co. As more brewers seek to open shop, these numbers will only continue to improve.

It’s clear that consumers’ tastes are changing. Beer lovers are turning toward unique, complex flavors over the traditional manufactured types. That places Indiana in a prime position to continue to profit from these ongoing advancements.

But this issue is more than just connecting consumers to beer makers. It’s about supporting homegrown businesses and, in turn, our economy as a whole. Buying local returns three times the revenue to communities compared to purchasing products from national chains. If we keep that money flowing through local economies, it will ultimately preserve market health and help it prosper.

Farmers’ markets are one popular avenue for buying local goods. Every Saturday, the Whitley County Courthouse Square in Columbia City bustles with farmers selling meat and produce and artisans displaying their handmade merchandise. Now imagine local brewers joining these vendors, sharing their own craft with hundreds of customers every week.

Farm wineries are allowed to sell their products at these markets and trade shows, but craft brewers are still restricted from doing so. In the 2013 legislative session, I introduced two bills that would have made this possible, but they did not gain enough support. For now, it’s an outlet these brewers cannot access.

Indiana has made significant gains in supporting local brewers, which is evident in the high growth this industry has experienced. However, there is still more we can do to help these businesses establish themselves in our state.

Oftentimes, brewers are held back by archaic, Prohibition-era restrictions that limit their ability to share their trade. For example, in Indiana, we have caps in place to restrict how much a brewery may sell and distribute to customers. This puts these businesses at a disadvantage, holding back Hoosier companies from competing in their own state.

Indiana has set itself apart as a business-friendly state, and we can continue that by improving opportunities for our craft brewers. I’m hopeful these discussions will be a focal point of future legislative sessions.

In the meantime, I look forward to discovering new favorites around our great state to fill my growler for the weekend. As they say, “Think globally. Drink locally.”•

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Banks, a Republican from Columbia City, represents the 17th District in the Indiana Senate. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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