BY MICHELLE MERLIN
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A new bill would allow state microbrewery operators to think a little more macro.
State legislators recently passed a package of bills that loosens regulations on state brewers.
Under the new laws, microbrewers would be allowed to double their production, and small microbrewers would be allowed to distribute without using a third party.
“It’s great progress for the industry in the state of Michigan,” said Leif Kolt, events and marketing coordinator at Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City. “In the future, that’s going to help us out as we continue to grow.”
Microbreweries can now brew 60,000 barrels a year, compared to a previous 30,000-barrel limit. Microbreweries can operate and sell beer at multiple locations. Regular breweries are limited to selling beer to the public at one brewing facility.
Antrim County-based Short’s Brewing Company expects to exceed 30,000 barrels this year for the first time. Scott Newman-Bale, a partner at Short’s and treasurer of the Michigan Brewers Guild, pushed for the changes for two years.
“The reason caps were there in the first place is we’re a new industry,” Newman-Bale said. “It’s kind of easing us in to make sure we don’t do anything we regret later. I think we’re rapidly getting to the point where they’re irrelevant.”
New Traverse City brewers could benefit from one of the bills, which would allow those brewing fewer than 1,000 barrels to distribute their own product, instead of using a third-party distributor. Those brewing more than 1,000 barrels would have to pay another party to distribute their beer, a requirement that slices into their profit margin or boosts consumer prices.
Pete Kirkwood, owner of Traverse City-based The Workshop Brewing Company, said he has mixed emotions about the bill, which would allow him to self-distribute for the first time.
“It’s a plus for me,” Kirkwood said. “My focus is selling my product to my neighbors and community.”
At the same time, Kirkwood, who doesn’t intend to widely distribute his beer and therefore doesn’t need a distributor, finds the 1,000-barrel cutoff limiting.
“The volume limitation at that moment of making 1,001 barrels has the effect of raising price to the consumer with no offsetting benefit,” Kirkwood said.
Mike Dwyer, the head brewer at Mackinaw Brewing Company in Traverse City, hopes the bills will help the burgeoning local beer business.
“There’s a real beer community happening in Traverse City, and we’re just for people being able to have things done so they can do their job more easily, brew beer, and bring people to Traverse City,” Dwyer said.