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Iowa to see more options for high-proof beers

BY MARY HARRINGTON | MARCH 09, 2010 7:30 AM

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Iowa brewers will soon get a chance to compete with out-of-state microbreweries’ higher-proof beers.

Gov. Chet Culver will sign a bill on Wednesday that will grant Iowa microbreweries the ability to make and sell higher-proof beers. The bill will increase the alcohol limit per bottle of beer from 5 percent to 12 percent.

These higher-proof brews are already sold in Iowa, because out-of-state companies can distribute their high-proof beers in the state.

“We’ve been at such a competitive disadvantage,” said Teresa Albert, a co-owner of Millstream Brewery in Amana.

Albert said Millstream will likely produce a seasonal, higher-alcohol beer once the bill becomes law. She is considering brewing a double bock, a type of German specialty beer, as soon as state restrictions on her business ease up.

“These higher-proof beers are gourmet beverages,” Albert said. “These are beers you want to sip and savor, not binge on like the cheaper beers.”

At John’s Grocery, 401 E. Market St., retailers have witnessed an increase in demand for pricier, higher-proof brews since last year.

Craft brewing — based in smaller breweries that generally produce higher quality, more distinct beverages than the bigger national beer producers — is on the rise.

In 2009, the craft brewing industry in the U.S. grew by 7.2 percent in volume; overall beer sales decreased by 2.2 percent. And 1,585 breweries produced beer for either some or all of 2009, the most craft brew operations to exist in the United States since before Prohibition in 1920s and early ’30s, according to the Brewers Association.

“It seems that even as people have less to spend, they want to spend it on better quality beers,” said Bill Heinrich, a beer-room manager at John’s, which is known for its specialty-beverage selection. “You don’t spend $14 on a four-pack of beer and then go binge on it.”

The increase in demand for high-proof beers that retailers have seen has left Iowa brewers anxiously awaiting their chance to compete for those palates.

“We want to give microbreweries in Iowa an opportunity to diversify,” said Rep. Vicky Lensing, D-Iowa City. “The intention was to even the playing field economically.”

Lensing headed the microbrewery provision of the bill that will be signed on Wednesday.

This will allow in-state manufacturing and selling of high-proof beers, allow the beer wholesalers to distribute the beverages rather than the state, and decrease the per-gallon tax on the beer, said Lynn Walding, the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division administrator.

High-proof alcohol will also no longer be classified as a spirit in Iowa.

“Wine and spirits can already produce at higher levels,” Albert said. “It’s all alcohol, so I don’t understand why Iowa beer was being held back.”


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