Local Craft Brewers Hope to Use Festivals to Lobby for More Industry-Friendly Laws
IPAs, Stouts, Hefewiezens, and Ales.
If you’re in Huntington or Wheeling this weekend, you’re bound to get a taste of some locally-brewed varieties at the Rails and Ales Festival or the Mountaineer Brewfest.
But, brewers from around the state aren’t just hoping to raise awareness about their products with these events, they’re also looking to influence the way they do business by getting the attention of state lawmakers.
Saturday's events in Huntington and Wheeling follow last month’s Brew Skies Festivals in Canaan Valley. Coming up there’s also Bramwell’s Oktoberfest.
It's clear interest in the state's craft beer industry is on the rise.
West Virginia had seven craft breweries making 19,542 barrels of beer creating $118.2 million in economic impact in 2012. The state ranked 49th in the number of breweries in 2013 but added four in the past year, according to data from the Brewer's Association, a national trade organization based in Colorado.
As of now, there are at least 11 operational breweries in the state but, according to the Brewer's Association's website, others are in the planning stages.
While production and revenues continue to rise, many brewers feel they need help from the state legislature. Mountain State Brewing Company’s Brian Arnett says West Virginia's craft beer industry has a few setbacks.
“We’re certainly more regulated than a mom and pop diner. There are forced interactions between brewers, distributors and retailers,” said Arnett. “A brewer only brews, a distributor only distributes, and retailer only retails. It’s called a three-tier system. So, it’s certainly a challenge for a brewer in a small state.”
Arnett also serves as the president of the West Virginia Craft Brewer’s Guild. The group formed last summer, hoping to influence legislation and regulations on everything from labeling, caps on alcohol by volume, to licensing fees that come along with brewing and serving craft beer.
The guild’s work seems to be paying off, as the state legislature has commissioned a study on the craft beer industry.
Arnett hopes the focus will be on how breweries can spur on small-scale economics, the way his does in Thomas in Tucker County.
“Hopefully they can see the impact of actual craft brewers in West Virginia and they can realize it is really contributing to small economies across the state--as much, anyway, as distributors in big towns,” he said. “But we’re not in big towns, we’re in smaller communities. We’re employing people where people don’t have jobs.”
The Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development is set to review the study on the industry sometime before the legislature returns for their regular session in January.