"Big Beer" vs. Spirits at the Statehouse

Apr 8, 2016

Beer manufacturers and wholesalers are trying to stop a bill in the legislature that would benefit Iowa’s burgeoning distillery industry.  

The bill would put makers of spirits on a more even playing field with breweries and wineries.   

Under the bill, distilleries could sell spirits by the glass in their tasting rooms and increase the daily sales limit.   Wineries and brewers can sell by the glass and bottle with no sales or production limits.    

Iowa Distilling Company in Cumming.

“We feel like this is a fair bill that addresses legitimate issues for small Iowa businesses,”  said Garrett Burchett, owner and distiller at Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire, Iowa.  “We aren’t asking for special treatment.  We’re asking for equal treatment.” 

Burchett says since his company opened five years ago, a winery and brewery have both opened with a block of the distillery.

“Our customers expect to enjoy a similar experience when they come to our business,” Burchett said.

The only groups registered against the bill are the Iowa Wholesale Beer Distributors and Anheuser Busch. 

“The bill weakens the legitimacy of the system that regulates alcohol in Iowa,” the wholesalers group said in a statement.   

The bill raises the limit on production of spirits for Iowa distilleries.   The wholesalers group says that would put Iowa out of line with some surrounding states.   But the distilleries say other nearby states have no production limits at all.

The bill is stalled in the Iowa House.   It appeared on the House debate calendar earlier in the session, but was then removed from the debate list.   

Mississippi River Distilling in LeClaire.
Credit Mississippi River Distilling

“Many of our members feel strongly on both sides of this issue so discussions are ongoing,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer.

Iowa grains are used in spirits.    The Iowa Corngrowers Association supports the bill.

“We see this as an economic development bill,” said Jason Gordon, Vice President of Public Affairs for the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce. 

Iowa’s small craft brewers support the bill.