Nevada Brewpubs Win and Lose with New Beer Bill

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Beginning this July, Nevada brewpubs will be able to make and sell a whole lot more beer than what they’re currently allowed to, thanks to a newly passed law that dramatically lifts a previously imposed production cap. As signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval earlier this month, Assembly Bill 431 permits brewpubs to produce as much as 40,000 barrels per year, up from the current, much more stringent cap of 15,000 barrels. A note of distinction, though: the bill applies specifically to brewpubs, defined herein as “an establishment which manufactures malt beverages and sells those malt beverages at retail,” and not to production breweries at large.

WHY IT MATTERS
On its face, the bill is a noteworthy step in a progressive direction, as it eliminates an arbitrary production line in favor a new—still arbitrary, of course, but less restrictive—production line (baby steps, people). But this is beer law after all, so you know it comes with a significant caveat.

And here's that: although brewpubs can now manufacture and sell 40,000 BBLs per year, the bill limits them to selling a mere 5,000 of those BBLs at the brewpub itself, further mandating that, of that 5,000-BBLs carve out, no more than 1,000 BBLs can be sold in kegs. Previously, brewpubs were allowed to sell all 15,000 BBLs they were legally able to produce at the brewpub itself, if they were so inclined to do so. Now, the law grants them more leeway in production, but creates the added legal responsibility of having to track how much beer they’re selling and in which formats.

Because of this prong of the bill, the legislation “also hurts breweries,” according to Wyndee Forrest, founder and owner of CraftHaus Brewery of Henderson. “It was that 15,000 barrels cap,” she tells KTNTV. “And now we can no longer sell more than 5,000 barrels annually to the community.”

More importantly, this wrinkle begets a larger question: what now of the other 35,000 BBLs they’re now free to manufacture? Well, self-distribution is illegal in Nevada, so you already know what. But for posterity’s sake: if a brewpub now wants to sell more than 5,000 BBLs, they’re going to have to sign on with a wholesaler. Shoutout to the traditional three-tier system!

No doubt, though, this is still a win for the state’s craft beer industry. Tom Young, brewmaster of Great Basin Brewing, said as much when he joined Gov. Sandoval as he signed the bill.

“I was in Washington, D.C. about a month ago and I ran into the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, and he offered a challenge to you,” Young said, speaking to the governor in front of a crowd of media. “He said he is visiting every brewery in the state of Virginia to enhance their brewing industry. There’s about 300 breweries in Virginia, so he’s got a lot tougher job than you have, so I’m just putting forth that challenge.”

With an always camera-ready stretch of the arm to rest on Young’s shoulder, Gov. Sandoval responded without hesitation: “I’m in.”

—Dave Eisenberg