Craft Beer, Anheuser-Busch At Odds Over Kentucky Beer Bill

Feb 12, 2015

Credit Nelli Shuyskaya, 123rf Stock Photo

Several House members on Thursday expressed concern and urged compromise on a bill that would prevent Anheuser-Busch from owning its own distributorships in Kentucky. Still, the House economic development committee approved the bill proposed by House Speaker Greg Stumbo and sent it to the House floor. 

Rep. Dennis Keene, a Democrat from Wilder, passed on voting on the bill, saying the decision was too difficult. “I’ve got friends on both sides of this issue and I’m obviously going to lose some friends over this,” Keene said. “I would love for you all to have a compromise, if there’s any way that you possibly can do it. I don’t like voting against you, speaker, and I’m not going to do today, but I’m going to pass.”

Nine lawmakers who voted for the bill also expressed desire to see the two sides compromise. Craft brewers and local distributors support the bill because it would close a loophole that allows out-of-state companies to own distributorships, while local craft brewers cannot. Anheuser-Busch says about 200 jobs would be lost at their distributors in Owensboro and Louisville if the bill passes.

Another casualty of the bill would be the Riverghost distributor in Erlanger, Kentucky. Bob Bonder, the co-founder of Rhinegeist brewery in Cincinnati, says he invested $250,000 to start up Riverghost, a company which he hoped would begin distributing Rhinegeist as well as wine and other craft beers. “We’ve only been in business since December, so we know that market exists, but this bill if it pass as it is would force us to close down,” Bonder said.

Several members of the committee expressed an interest in including an amendment that would grandfather in existing distributorships—so that Anheuser-Busch’s present distributors and Riverghost wouldn’t have to close. But Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, said interests on both sides of the bill have not come to the table to compromise. “They haven’t played well in the sandbox together. As far as I know they’re still kicking sand at each other,” Stumbo said.

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