Mad River Valley brewer Sean Lawson is bottling up a batch of his Double Sunshine IPA. Lawson's Finest Liquids, which opened barely five years ago, already has won numerous awards and accumulated a huge fan base among beer connoisseurs.
"I got calls from all over the country wanting to buy the maple triple. We have a couple of gold, silver and bronze medals from the World Beer Cup on that one, so it's gained some recognition," Lawson said.
You can only buy Lawson's brews in select locations. This 60-case batch is headed to a Winooski retailer and will sell out only hours after hitting the shelves. Lawson and a handful of other brewers want to capitalize on that demand by being able to ship directly to in- and out-of-state customers, something state law currently does not allow brewers to do.
"Longer term when our business does grow, I see it as an important market for not only our brewery, but a number of brewers that make higher value product or products that are really known across the country already even though the breweries are fairly small," Lawson said.
A bill moving through the Vt. Statehouse would allow such direct shipping, but House lawmakers are trying to sort through some complications in the liquor laws. Vermont brewers are already allowed to export beer to other states that allow it. It is the in-state shipping that's the problem. Under the U.S. Commerce Clause, allowing direct sales in-state means that you also have to allow out-of-state direct sales into Vermont.
"It's a definite public safety issue when you've got alcohol coming in across our borders that we don't know is coming in across our borders or where it's landing," said Bill Goggins of the Vt. Department of Liquor Control.
Department of Liquor Control officials say the internet has created a new landscape when it comes to enforcement. They aren't against the proposed legislation, but they're also are wary of loosening post-prohibition controls, like some other open market states.
"Open market no-- we have the three-tier system in Vermont. It's been an effective tool for us. We don't have the alcohol-related issues that a lot of other open states do have that they don't regulate it as closely as Vermont does," Goggins said.
Under the guise of safety, Vermont beer retailers also aren't in favor of direct sales into Vermont.
"The more that we go down to selling these products over the internet, the less likely that same type of regulation and oversight can be done," said Jim Harrison of the Vermont Grocers' Association.
Lawmakers several years ago approved a similar bill for wine. Now, brewers say it's their turn.
"It's a trend in the beer world and in the brewing world and in the retail world that direct shipping of products is becoming more and more prevalent both for beer and for wine," Lawson said.
The beer bill, which includes a number of other alcohol provisions, has already passed the Senate. A House committee is expected to take more testimony Thursday.