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Indiana microbreweries fight barrel limits with help from local lawmakers

Indiana microbreweries now have the support of state lawmakers in their battle for beer.

Since November 2014, Indianapolis-based Sun King Brewing Co. has been unable to offer its beer to northwest Indiana enthusiasts. Indiana’s second-largest brewery’s decision to slow statewide distribution stems from legislation that places restrictions on Indiana craft breweries exceeding an annual 30,000 barrel yield. 

Sun King and Muenster-based Three Floyds Brewing Co. recently launched Support Indiana Brewers, an initiative aimed at doubling the current barrel limit and informing state legislators and the public of the growth limitations currently placed upon Indiana craft breweries.

A barrel of beer holds 31 gallons — the equivalent of two full kegs or 248 pints. So 30,000 barrels could serve around 7.44 million pints of beer.

As the law stands now, Indiana breweries can produce an unlimited amount of beer for sale in Indiana, but once they exceed the 30,000 mark, tasting rooms, on-site restaurants and the ability to self-distribute are all forfeited.

“At 30,000 barrels, we would be forced to give up our tasting room, which is our biggest marketing tool,” said Omar Robinson, president and co-owner of Sun King. “Our self-distribution, where we have our own drivers and trucks, we would have to give that away to some distributor for free. And if we’re Nick Floyd at Three Floyds, and he goes over 30, which he is being very careful not to do, he’d have to shut his restaurant down.”

This isn’t the first collaboration between Sun King and Three Floyds.

In April 2011, House Bill 1132 passed on a vote of 84-12 and increased the previous limit from 20,000 to 30,000 barrels. The craft brew compadres were leading the campaign then, along with Upland Brewery of Bloomington.

If passed, the new Senate Bill 281 authored by Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, would raise the barrel limit from 30,000 to 60,000 and allow microbreweries to continue self-distribution and front-end operations.

“Elkhart County and northern Indiana, while this may not impact them currently, I think eventually it will,” said Sen. Yoder. “We’ve got some great microbreweries in the area and as they continue to expand and excel in their business, this will be a good thing for them, so I’m just looking out for my community.”

Michigan City’s Shoreline Brewery and Culver-based Evil Czech produced about 10,000 and 1,000 barrels last year, respectively. Bare Hands Brewery owner Chris Gerard said his Granger brewpub produced about 400 barrels in 2014. While Gerard has yet to even merge onto the highway to the danger zone, he’s pleased with the progress of his peers.

“It’s a very cool thing and will be a way for someone to pave the way,” Gerard said.

Sun King’s story could serve as a model for smaller Indiana operations. The company experienced a 33.3 percent growth during last year alone.

“There will be a number of breweries, just like us, that are starting up as little bitty ones like we did five years ago,” Robinson said. “In five, six, seven, eight years they could faced with the same problem — ‘Gosh, we’ve got a demand for a beer, but we have to give up this, this or this in order to keep growing.’ And it changes your world.”

Listed as “president, owner and driver of the Winnebago” on his company’s website, Robinson presents his passion for beer, The Blues Brothers and small business clearly.  

“To take our right to be able to sell something we built away from us – to be able to raise capital to grow our business – is quite honestly unconstitutional and un-American.”

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