Craft beer is booming in Chattanooga. With multiple annual beer festivals, five breweries with at least two more set to open this year, several growler shops and beer-centric pubs and restaurants, and a booming homebrewer community, Chattanooga is well-positioned to climb the charts as one of our nation's best beer cities --heck, livability.com thinks we're already in the Top 10.
But there's an important roadblock to all this progress: Tennessee's antiquated and arcane beer cap. Beer in Tennessee is defined as a fermented malt beverage containing 5 percent or less alcohol by weight (~6.2 percent abv). Any beer above that cap is defined as "high-gravity beer" and can only be purchased in liquor stores. Many of these liquor stores simply choose not to carry beer or they otherwise relegate beer to hot and dusty back shelves. While we're lucky to have some exceptions in Chattanooga, they are few and far between.
HB47 and HB610 are finally moving forward in the Tennessee House. These bills aim to allow wine in grocery stores. These are important bills that not only allow Chattanooga consumers more choices, but also keep us from driving just across the Georgia state line to enjoy a wider (and cheaper) selection of wine any day of the week. These bills deserve our support and I know many of you have already written your local legislator to encourage passage.
What these bills are missing is language to allow the sale of high-gravity beers in grocery stores as well. With the bills as they are currently written, later this year, you might walk into your local grocery store and see a brand new aisle of nothing but wine --wines ranging up to 18 percent alcohol by volume. Unfortunately, the beer cooler will look exactly the same. You'll still be limited to around 6.2 percent alcohol by volume. If you want a wider selection, you'll have to go to a liquor store --one that actually carries beer.
I often hear the question, "Why can't we get 'Really Awesome Brewery' beers in Chattanooga?" It's simple: most breweries have a wide range of beers that run the gamut from low gravity to high gravity. If they can't sell their full portfolio here without distributing to different types of stores and navigating tricky tax code, why bother? Fort Oglethorpe is just across the border and they'll sell anything a brewery throws at them.
Please, take just a few moments and write your local legislator. Let them know that we need high gravity beer added to the language in HB47 and HB610.