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NH-made craft beer eyed for state liquor stores


CONCORD - A plan to promote beer made at New Hampshire craft breweries by selling it at state liquor stores is running into opposition from a grocery industry trade group.

New Hampshire State Liquor Stores do not sell beer. But legislation being heard today in Concord would expand a State Liquor Commission pilot program that now targets New Hampshire-made wines to the sale of beer made by the state's growing number of the state's nano- and microbreweries.

"The liquor commission has not had a good history promoting New Hampshire wine," said New Hampshire Grocers Association President John Dumais. "How effective would they be for nanobreweries?"

Nanobreweries are the smallest of the small beer manufacturers, turning out 2,000 or fewer barrels of beer per year. Microbreweries produce up to 15,000 barrels per year.

The bill proposed by a group of lawmakers would add beer to the list of products that the Liquor Commission is required to sell in its stores "whenever feasible."

As written, House Bill 275 goes beyond merely encouraging the sale of craft beers. It adds beer to the products that may be sold in state liquor stores, without limiting it to craft beers brewed in-state.

As drafted, the proposal adds six separate references to the sale of beer in state liquor stores, adding "beer" to provisions of the law that currently mention only the commission's traditional products, wine and liquor.

Smaller profit margins have discouraged suggestions that state liquor stores sell beer. The Liquor Commission estimates that the mark-up on beer is 10 to 20 percent, while the mark-up on wine and liquor reaches 50 percent, according to a fiscal note attached to the bill.

Grocery industry executives are worried that if the state-owned stores start selling beer, they won't stop at the craft brews.

"They could first try to capture the craft beer market and as that takes off, they would go after national brewers," Dumais said. "People would stop on the highway, they wouldn't go into the towns and go to other stores."

David Currier, who heads Henniker Brewing, which bottled its first batches of beer this month, says he can see both sides.

"I have mixed emotions about this one - as a start-up, we obviously want to get our product anywhere and everywhere we can, " Currier said. "But what will this do for some of the border towns when people don't have to get off the highway to buy local beer."

Henniker is classified as a beverage manufacturer, a category larger than nanobreweries or microbreweries.

A separate bill would allow nanobreweries to serve more product to on-site customers. Right now, they are legally limited to tastings - only four ounces of each label of beer they sell per customers. House Bill 253 would remove that limit.

wsmith@unionleader.com

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