Stronger beer is here

By: - August 4, 2005 5:02 am

Raleigh News & Observer
Specialty suds can have 15% alcohol


Specialty beer lovers, raise your discriminating glasses. Soon it will be legal in North Carolina to make and sell much stronger beers — and malt liquors, too.

The state Senate gave final approval Wednesday to increasing the limit on alcohol in North Carolina beers and other malt beverages from 6 percent to 15 percent.

The bill, which had already passed the state House, goes to Gov. Mike Easley for his signature to become law immediately. Easley’s spokeswoman wouldn’t say whether he’ll sign off on the change, which will become law unless he vetoes it.

Supportive lawmakers and backers of a two-year "Pop the Cap" campaign celebrated within hours with a "Budget Break Party" sponsored by three microbreweries and a beer distributor.

"I’m going to relax and enjoy the beer," said Julie Bradford, 52, of Durham, a beer enthusiast who led the effort (and who writes a beer column for The News & Observer). "We were in this to offer a full range of flavors and to elevate the beer culture here."

This is not your father’s Coors. The bolder brews are two to four times as strong as ordinary beer and more expensive. Their labels will show their alcohol content.

Fans say they’re more delicious and go better with food.

"It’s more about the flavor and less about the quantity of consumption of alcohol," said Robert Poitras, the owner of Chapel Hill’s Carolina Brewery. "We are excited to give our customers more choices. This will allow us to push the envelope."

Weaker mass-market beers aren’t expected to get stronger, because they’re sold in states with wide-ranging alcohol limits.

Opponents say stronger beers and malt liquors will be a greater temptation and a greater danger for underage teens who will drink them and get drunk faster.

"I am sorely disappointed," said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, who lobbied against the higher limit. "It’s going to streamline high-alcohol malt liquors into the state, the ones targeted primarily for black and Hispanic youths."

Others agreed.

"It is perilously short-sighted of our state leaders," said Isabel Geffner, leader of the Committee for Alcohol- and Drug-Free Teenagers, a parents group.

Sen. John Kerr, a Goldsboro Democrat, argued against the bill to several colleagues before the Senate voted. But it passed 27-21. Among Triangle senators, only Neal Hunt and Fred Smith voted against it.

Milwaukee lights, make way for Tar Heel thicks.

And bring on the Belgian Chimay, Duval Ale, Imperial Stout, and 90 Minute IPA.

"We’ve been restricted long enough,’ said Daniel Kulenic, a manager at Tyler’s Taproom in Durham. "It’s nice to have the opportunity to open the doors to more intriguing flavors. There’s a strong buzz in the air."

And soon on the tongue, too.

(Staff writers Matt Dees and Patrick Winn contributed to this report.)

Staff writer Matthew Eisley can be reached at 829-4538 or [email protected].

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066