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New legislation could be 'huge for craft brewing industry,' NC lawmaker says

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A bill introduced in the N.C. General Assembly could boost breweries across the state.

Supporters believe the Craft Distribution and Modernization Act adjusts current law to promote the growth of small and mid-sized independent breweries.

"It's huge for the craft brewing industry," said Rep. Chuck McGrady, of Henderson County, who's one of the sponsors of the bill.

McGrady said it's a compromise between the beer industry and distributors that will benefit most breweries.

"Ninety-plus, maybe closer to 100, percent of craft breweries, this will allow them to grow," McGrady said.

He expects the bill to have a hearing in the House in two weeks.

It would raise cap on production from 25,000 barrels to 50,000. That would pave the way for more beer makers to distribute their product, instead of paying a distributor.

Highland Brewing Co.'s kept the beer flowing in Asheville for nearly 25 years. Last year, the company produced 45,000 barrels of beer.

Highland president and CEO Leah Wong Ashburn is cautiously optimistic.

"Well, it's early. This legislation is an iterative process, and so there's a lot of things in there that could still change," she said. "The industry's changing so fast and the consumers are evolving, too, so I think the entities involved in it have to evolve as well. "

The bill will have less impact on smaller operations like Asheville Brewing Co., but head brewer Pete Langheinrich still sees it as a win-win.

"It seems like it would help independent smaller breweries, and we're always game for that. We always support that movement," Langheinrich said. "Any kind of legislation that tips the scales to independent breweries is a good thing, so that's something we support."

Local craft beer producers see the legislation as a step forward made possible by keeping the lines of communication open.

"It's generally positive," Wong Ashburn said. "Brewers and wholesalers have a very longstanding relationship, it's very deep, and we should always be talking to each other. So it's a good thing."

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