Lautenbaugh’s draft beer to go bill gets attention

Story by Demetria Stephens, NewsNetNebraska

A bill that allows bar and restaurant patrons to buy draft beer to go was debated Monday during a committee hearing.

LB456 received added attention because its sponsor, Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, is accused of drunken driving.

The political activist group Bold Nebraska had urged residents to contact Lautenbaugh and request that he withdraw the bill because of last week’s citation. Lautenbaugh was stopped by a Douglas County deputy about 2 a.m. Feb. 27 for driving erratically near 147th Street and West Maple Road. He registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.234 percent— nearly three times the legal limit.

“When someone makes a very serious mistake like Senator Lautenbaugh, it does have consequences,” said Jane Kleeb, executive director of the group.

Lautenbaugh did not appear at the General Affairs Committee hearing to introduce the bill. Instead, Brent Smoyer, one of Lautenbaugh’s staff members, explained LB456, which he said would create equity between bars and breweries.

Several customers at large restaurants were asking for tap beer to go, but only brewers can sell the tap beer to go now, Smoyer said.

“Craft beer is an amazing thing that’s going on,” said Mike Kelley, manager of Blatt Brewery. “It’s a lot like wine, there’s connoisseurs. Some people call them beer snobs.” Just like with wine, rather than having to finish the beer onsite, people should be able to take anything left over home, he said.

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Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, image courtesy of the Nebraska Legislature

But the size of the sealed containers — up to two gallons — concerned Nicole Carritt, executive director of Project Extra Mile, who pointed out that Nebraska ranks second in adult binge drinking rates in the U.S. She said her organization, which tries to prevent underage drinking, would have opposed the bill regardless of Lautenbaugh’s situation.

“The way the bill was written really does raise some concern,” she said.

Matt Stinchfield of Ploughshare Brewing Co. opposed the bill because he said it could hurt his business.  Tap-to-container sales are typically reserved for craft beers, but 95 percent of beer sold on tap are “major lagers,” not made in Nebraska, he said. If the bill were passed, he thinks bars and restaurants would try to sell more of the major lagers to go.

Craft beer brewing is a small but growing industry in the Nebraska, making up less than 5 percent of Nebraska’s beer sales and with brewers supplying less than 1 percent of craft beer in Nebraska, he said. Selling tap beer at bars in growlers — brown glass bottles that are commonly half a gallon — undermines the integrity of the craft brewing industry in the state, he said.

“From the time you put a beer in a growler, it begins degrading immediately,” he said.

The other issue, he said, is that every container should identify the brewery, the product name and an Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau warning, he said, but bars might only use paper doilies. Those could easily be lost, he said.

Hobert Rupe, executive director Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, said the commission would be opposed to the bill if it was going forward now. It held a neutral stance. Craft brewing is the only beer industry that’s growing, with more breweries now than during prohibition in the 1920s, he said. He said growlers can be used by craft brewers because they follow strict rules.

“They’re the ones whose names are on the bottle, they’re the ones selling the bottle,” he said. “If they sell a bad batch, then they might lose some future sales off of that.”

Because of the concerns brought up by those testifying, Smoyer suggested that the General Affairs Committee conduct an interim study on LB456.

Bold Nebraska’s Kleeb said she welcomed more research on the bill.

“Hopefully the craft brewers can look at a different sponsor next year,” she said, adding she hoped Lautenbaugh would get the help he needed.

 

 

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