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Bill Would Allow Craft Beer in Liquor Stores

House Bill 275 seeks to create a pilot program to sell beer made by New Hampshire-based microbreweries and nanobreweries in two New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlet stores.

A House bill that seeks to create a pilot program to sell craft beer made in New Hampshire in NH Liquor and Wine Outlet stores is not getting a lot of support from NH brewers or the NH Grocers Association.

House Bill 275, which was scheduled to be aired before the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee on Tuesday, would create a two-year pilot program to allow beer made by NH-based microbreweries and nanobreweries to be sold in the NH state liquor stores in Hampton on I-95 and Hooksett on I-93.

“It’s not for all beers. It’s for our microbreweries and that’s a very special New Hampshire product, and it is good way to get it known outside of the state,” said State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, one of the bill's sponsors.

She explained the idea would be to see how much of those home-grown beers would be purchased by out of state customers who tend to buy their liquor and wine at the state liquor stores.

“They are doing a lot already and this is just sort of a way to enhance their position,” said Fuller Clark about the state's growing microbrewery and nano brewery industry.

John Thompson, a representative of Smuttynose Brewing Co. in Portsmouth, said there are "pluses and minuses" to the bill.

“We don’t have a position yet,” he said on Tuesday morning. “We haven’t had a chance to have the internal conversation yet.”

The Union Leader reported on Tuesday that New Hampshire Grocers Association President John Dumais is also not too keen about the bill. Dumais also told the newspaper that if the state liquor stores start selling NH craft beers and they do well, they may also end up selling national beers and this would hurt beer sales at supermarkets and grocery stores.

Fuller Clark disagrees. She said the NH-made craft beer is already sold in local supermarkets and small stores. “I don’t think this would hurt them because it would be just a way to promote this product to customers who don’t come to their stores anyway,” she said.

According to legislation's methodology, it is uncertain how much the sale of NH-made craft beers at state liquor stores would decrease general fund revenue in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 if the sale of wine and liquor decreased.

The NH Liquor Commission also indicated in the bill's methodology the markup on beer ranges between 10 to 20 percent, wine ranges between 40 and 55 percent, and spirits ranges between 47 and 50 percent. The commission has argued that if shelf space in the state liquor stores is lost to NH-made craft beers, the state may not earn as much money.

Fuller Clark remained optimistic the bill would garner good support because it is a vehicle that could help what has become a growing industry in the state that has also benefited the tourism industry.

“We have a very strong market of microbrewers in the state and we should support them to help them be successful,” she said.

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