Wyoming microbreweries, a growing industry in the state, would be able to more than triple the amount of beer they can produce annually under legislation endorsed by a Senate panel Thursday.
The Senate Revenue Committee unanimously recommended House Bill 82, sending it to the full Senate for debate. The bill already has passed the House.
The legislation proposed by Rep. Ruth Petroff, R-Jackson, would increase the maximum amount of malt beverages that a microbrewery in the state can produce from 15,000 barrels a year to 50,000 barrels annually.
"Nobody's close to the 15,000 yet, but two of them are in the planning process of making major infrastructure changes to be able to produce more," Petroff said. "In order to be able to continue with their plans to grow, they need this legislation."
If a microbrewery surpasses the annual barrel production limit, it would be considered a brewery, like Budweiser, under state law.
There are fewer than 30 microbreweries in Wyoming and no large breweries.
Petroff explained that microbreweries enjoy certain advantages that a large brewer is not allowed under state law. For example, microbreweries can sell their products on site and distribute their products themselves.
A law passed by the Legislature in 2013 prohibits large brewers from self-distributing in Wyoming. The law was drafted to protect Wyoming distributors from being driven out of business by large, out-of-state breweries.
But Petroff said the 2013 law presents an unintended consequence to microbreweries that are near the 15,000 barrel limit and want to expand.
"The concern is, that as our local microbreweries are growing, that they grow past the microbrewery category into the brewery category, and they're no longer able to distribute their own product," Petroff said.
It would be a huge sales disadvantage if a small brewery couldn't perform its own distribution.
Mike Moser, a lobbyist for the Wyoming Liquor Association, said the microbrewery industry in Wyoming is growing.
"There's not a huge amount of them now but, I think it's a growth opportunity, especially in the sense that you can serve your own product and distribute it as well," Moser said.
A committee member, Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said he supports Petroff's proposed bill, noting that a planned expansion of a microbrewery in Sheridan would create 12 new jobs.
"It clearly does not increase the overall consumption of beer, because the big boys are flat or declining," Kinskey said.