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Bill Protecting Craft Brewers Passes State Senate

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS/WBBM) -->/strong> The beers you'll never see advertised on the Super Bowl are closer to a victory in Illinois.

As WBBM Newsradio 780's Dave Dahl reports, the bill allowing craft brewers – producing fewer than 15,000 barrels of beer per year – to distribute their own product has passed the Illinois Senate. A barrel equals 31 gallons.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780's Dave Dahl reports


One state senator invoked the name of a Chicago-based liquor wholesaler that is backing the bill, but which is also suing to block the state's Capital Construction program.

"I'm looking here at the opponents and the proponents and the bill, and I did notice that the Wirtz Corporation was on here," state Sen. Mike Jacobs (D-East Moline) said in debate. "Isn't that the gentleman that's suing the state of Illinois to stop us from moving forward on our construction jobs in Illinois and building lllinois up? Is that the same gentleman?"

"I believe it is the same family, yes," replied sponsor state Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago).

"If he wants to come back next week, after we address this lawsuit, I'd be much more likely to support it," he said.

The bill is intended as a response to a distribution suit filed by Anheuser-Busch. The idea, according to supporters, is to protect the smallest breweries while keeping giants such as Anehuser-Busch from self-distributorship.

The current structure for the sale of alcoholic beverages dates back to the Liquor Control Act of 1934, after Prohibition was repealed. Under the law, distributors obtain products from manufacturers and distribute them to retailers.

Anheuser-Busch has been seeking to cut the middleman in Illinois. The Chicago Tribune explained last month that the beer giant it tried to buy its main Chicago area distributor, City Beverage, but the Illinois Liquor Commission blocked the sale.

Anheuser-Busch filed a lawsuit, claiming that they were being discriminated against as an out-of-state brewer, while Illinois-based microbrewers were permitted to distribute their own products, the Tribune reported.

A judge agreed and ruled that current state law is discriminatory, and now unless the approved bill passes the state House and is signed by Gov. Pat Quinn by the end of May, no breweries large or small will be allowed to distribute their own products, the Tribune explained.

Some microbreweries are taking issue with the bill, particularly because of an amendment that placed caps on the amount a craft brewer can legally distribute.

The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild recently complained that under an amendment to the bill, SB 754, craft brewers may only distribute 7,500 barrels of beer a year, whereas before a lawsuit by Anheuser-Busch, there was no limit to how much they could distribute.

The guild is proposing a cap of 60,000 barrels a year so the craft brewers can grow their business.

The bill also says brewpubs must open a second facility in order to self-distribute, which they cannot always afford, the guild said.

Argus brewery, based in Chicago, and Big Muddy Brewery, based in downstate Murphysboro, are among those affected by the bill.

The vote on the bill was 48-1, with 3 abstentions.

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