‘High-gravity’ beer bill goes to the governor

The House approved and sent to the governor Monday legislation that will allow beer with higher alcohol content to be sold in grocery stores around the state.

The measure by Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, was approved 72-12 with eight abstentions. It has passed the Senate earlier, 22-7.

Under current law, beer with more than 5 percent alcohol content by volume – known as “high-gravity beer” by retailers — can be sold only in liquor stores.

Under SB289, as finally approved following three transformations, the generally permissible alcohol content of beer will increase to 8 percent. But stores that become legally able to sell wine under the provisions of the wine-in-grocery-store will also be able to sell beer with an alcohol content of up to 15 percent, a typical alcohol volume for wine.

Craft breweries will also be authorized to sell their high-gravity product under the bill and liquor stores will also continue to sell it.

The only debate on the House floor came when Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, a frequent critic of laws liberalizing rules for sale of alcoholic beverages used a bit of sarcism. He asked Haynes for an assurance that, with passage of the new law, high-gravity beer “is not going to be for sale in vending machines and day care centers.”

“Absolutely not,” replied Haynes.

“Well, that thrills my soul,” said Floyd.

Haynes also won final approval Monday of legislation (SB2415) that allows wineries to sell alcoholic beverages by the glass at their place of business and two satellite locations. Current law allows only the sale of wine by the bottle at wineries.