New state law loosens brewery restrictions

Under a new state law, a community in North Carolina can now have a brewery that serves its own beer even if the business is located in a place previously considered “dry.” For McDowell County, this means the town of Old Fort or any other community outside of Marion can legally have a brewery where its products will be served and sold, according a spokesperson for the state ABC Commission.

Under a new state law, a community in North Carolina can now have a brewery that serves its own beer even if the business is located in a place previously considered “dry.”

Senate Bill 290, sponsored by Republican and Democratic lawmakers, was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper late last month in Durham. Also called the ABC Regulatory Reform Bill, it implements numerous long-awaited reforms to North Carolina’s rules regarding alcohol, such as allowing brewers to offer tastings at farmer’s markets and allowing restaurants and other similar businesses to sell up to two drinks to a customer at one time. It makes the rules for craft distilleries more like the ones for wineries and breweries. One section of the new law states that dogs can now go inside a brewery that doesn’t prepare food.

You can read the law here:

But there is another and lesser known section of this law that could have a big impact on North Carolina towns and communities, such as Old Fort, that for many years were considered to be dry.

Part XXI states the owner of a brewery permit may “regardless of the results of any local malt beverage election, sell the malt beverages owned by the brewery at the brewery for on- or off-premise consumption…” The owner must obtain the appropriate permit from the state ABC Commission, which is based in Raleigh, according to the new state law.

For McDowell County, this means the town of Old Fort or any other community outside of Marion can legally have a brewery where its products will be served and sold, according a spokesperson for the state ABC Commission.

This part takes effect Oct. 1 and applies to other communities across North Carolina, whether they were considered dry or not.

Kat Haney, public affairs director for the N.C. ABC Commission, said a commercial brewery could have operated in any location for some time now. N.C. Statute 18B-603(f)(6), which has enacted years ago, states the state ABC Commission could issue a permit without approval at an election for a variety of commercial uses allowed under 18B-1100. These uses include wineries, distilleries, breweries and other similar businesses.

But a brewery could not legally sell its products where it made them. This new law changes that. It gets rid of the old law which stated that the governing body of a city or county had to give its approval.

This part of Senate Bill 290 is about breweries only. It does not include a distillery, a winery, a cidery or a meadery.

Both N.C. Rep. Josh Dobson and N.C. Ralph Hise were among the Republicans who voted in favor of the new law, according to online sources for the General Assembly.

Now, the owner of a brewery is able to apply for an on- and off-premise retail sale permit from the ABC Commission. That permit would apply to only the brewery’s product. It could not serve beers made by others or different forms of alcohol. Breweries won’t be able to apply for a mixed beverage permit if their municipality/county has not approved it, according to Haney.

“This law does not extend beyond the producer to any other entity – bar, convenience store, etc. It also does not apply to spirituous liquor (mixed beverage),” she said to The McDowell News.

For years now, numerous Old Fort residents have advocated for a change in the rules regarding alcohol in the town. They have looked at the thriving downtown in nearby Black Mountain (which has three breweries) and more recently the rebirth of Marion’s central business district (which has one brewery) and wondered why something like that isn’t happening in Old Fort. Western North Carolina is known worldwide for its craft beer industry and there are other towns in the mountains smaller than Old Fort with craft breweries and other downtown businesses. There is a Facebook page called End Prohibition in Old Fort, NC and a petition was circulated calling for a referendum on the issue. Despite all this, the efforts to change Old Fort’s rules at the local level have been unsuccessful.

Susie Calloway Painter, former co-owner of Painters Greenhouse, is one of those who have advocated for this change. On Friday, July 26, she posted on Facebook about the new state law.

“Our legislation has passed both the NC house and senate that will allow a brewery to obtain a retail permit regardless of any local election. The law becomes effective 10/1. Old fort can then have a brewery and it can sell its own product to its customers,” she posted on July 26.

On Tuesday, Painter said to The McDowell News “the whole community of Old Fort, including the people outside the city limits that have never been able to vote on such issues are so excited to hear that we along with other small towns will be able to have a brewery and sell beer.”

“This one simple law will open doors for economic growth in Old Fort that we have never seen before,” she added in a message to The McDowell News. “We have sat back and watched Marion’s downtown go from almost nonexistent shopping to a lively place with a multitude of restaurants, businesses & entertainment just because they were able to sell beer & wine! We are not Marion, we have our own flavor and we can't wait to see how it tastes! Yes! We have plans for a brewery, maybe several, so folks, just sit back & watch us grow. Old Fort’s time has come!”

When word about this new law spread, other people voiced their happiness on social media about the potential for growth and change in Old Fort.

“Maybe this will help move Old Fort out of the ‘Twilight Zone,’” read one post.

“I sure hope it brings growth to Old Fort,” read another.

The McDowell News reached out to both Mayor Rick Hensley and Mayor Pro Tem Andrew Carlton for their comments about the new law. The question was: “Do you feel this would benefit Old Fort and become a way to boost your downtown?”

“In regards to this new bill, after reading the 15 page document this bill only helps breweries and distillerys for selling more quantities,” wrote Hensley in an email to The McDowell News. “This does not pertain to a dry county or a dry Town. Therefore we will see how this turns out for some. Also here in the Town of Old Fort the majority of citizens do not favor alcohol, so as their Mayor I insist on majority rules.”

“One of the reasons our Mayor and current Board of Alderman were elected by the town’s people was to keep the sale of alcohol out of the town limits,” wrote Carlton in an email to The McDowell News. “I have no evidence that the town residence mind set has changed. Even though it might be legal for breweries to sell in Old Fort does not mean they can obtain business licenses to do so.”

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