Iowa Lawmakers Seek to Clarify Definition of Beer


There are two types of malt beverages in Iowa: there’s “beer,” which is defined by the Alcoholic Beverages Division as a product that does not exceed 6.25 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). And then there’s “high alcoholic content beer,” which the state currently defines as malt beverages ranging between 6.25 percent ABV and 15 percent ABV.

The issue, according to wholesalers, is that section 123 of Iowa Code currently makes the distinction between the two products clear, while section 123A — which defines the state’s franchise law — only defines “beer.”

Now state lawmakers are pushing to clarify the definition with House Study Bill 46, according to the Des Moines Register.

“What it does is, it treats all business dealings in beer the same,” Mike Heller, a lobbyist with the Iowa Wholesale Beer Distributors Association, told the website. “There weren’t really problems, but we’re trying to avoid future issues.”

The bill, first introduced in the House, is now expected to move to the Senate.

IWBDA executive director Sheila Douglas described HSB 46 as a “technical bill,” and told Brewbound that its aim is simply to add a definition of “high alcoholic content beer” to section 123A of the Iowa Code. That, she said, would clear up any confusion with definitions in other sections of the law.

But spelling out the differences between “beer” and “high alcoholic content beer,” as it relates to the state’s wholesale franchise laws, could indicate the IWBDA’s future lobbying plans.

Iowa is a control state, meaning that the distribution of all alcoholic beverages, except beer, is handled by the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division. The state had previously controlled sales of higher strength beers until 2010, when the IWBDA and the state’s craft brewers lobbied for, and won, the right to sell beers with alcohol contents ranging between 6.25 percent ABV and 15 percent ABV. At the same time, Iowa lawmakers granted in-state producers the right to brew and sell higher-gravity offerings, something that was previously illegal and an advantage that out-of-state competitors enjoyed, Douglas said.

Still, under the current framework, the delivery and sale of beers exceeding 15 percent ABV must be handle by the state. So will Iowa wholesalers look to once again raise the limit on beers they’re allowed to distribute?

“It is something that, as long as I have been here, and since 2010, has never been a subject of discussion,” Douglas told Brewbound.

Douglas began as executive director of the IWBDA in 1996.

Note: Assistant editor Dave Eisenberg contributed to this report.