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Tenn. Pushes Beer Bill To Lure Brewer

Thu, 05/19/2011 - 4:40am

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A California beer maker that produces some potent suds is seeking a site for a new brewery, and some Tennessee lawmakers are pushing legislation that they hope will persuade the company to build it in East Tennessee.

Tennessee's Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday voted 10-0 to advance the bill establishing state guidelines for high-alcohol beer to a full floor vote.

The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Ken Yager of Harriman would govern the sale of beer with an alcohol content of 5 percent to 20 percent. Tennessee law currently makes no distinction between high-alcohol beer and liquors or wines.

Bill Manley, a spokesman for Chico, Calif.-based Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., said Alcoa is on the short list of finalists for the new brewery. But not without changes in state law to allow for selling high-alcohol beer on site and allowing the products to be sampled at a brew pub and restaurant that would be built alongside the brewery.

"Many of our beers are actually above the 5 percent alcohol by weight, so that's one of the requirements to even look at that site," he said.

Manley said company officials are monitoring whether "something passes in a way that will make it reasonable for us" to locate in Tennessee.

Sen. Doug Overbey introduced the amendment that would apply to the potential Sierra Nevada investment. The Maryville Republican said it was the result of "work with the folks in the city of Alcoa and Blount County for a significant economic development opportunity that required some changes in state law to stay in the mix."

Sierra Nevada is looking to establish a brewery east of the Mississippi to relieve pressure on the California facility that is rapidly approaching capacity, Manley said.

"We're hoping to make a decision sometime through this summer or fall of this year, and begin construction sometime after that," he said.

Changes to the bill adopted Tuesday stripped a provision to allow only one manufacturer of high-alcohol beer in each Grand Division of Tennessee. Manley applauded the move, saying that Sierra Nevada has sought to foster craft brewing.

The bill would also allow brewers of high-alcohol beer to obtain a restaurant license and serve liquor.

Another element of the bill would also change a law that distilleries can only sell whiskey in commemorative bottles, thereby allowing them to offer visitors the same bottles sold in stores.

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