A Kentucky bill that would force Anheuser-Busch to sell off or close two distributorships it owns in the state passed out of a Senate subcommittee today and now stands one vote removed from becoming law.
As sponsored by Speaker Greg Stumbo, House Bill 168 would ban any brewer from owning a wholesale operation in hopes of upholding the traditional three-tier system.
Though A-B, which operates two wholesale outposts in Owensboro and Louisville, has decried the proposed legislation as an “assault on 200 jobs by greedy special interests,” it has received ringing endorsements from a large swath of other industry stakeholders, including craft brewers, independent wholesalers, and even MillerCoors.
But at least one startup craft-focused wholesaler would be swept up with A-B and shut down should the bill pass. Riverghost Distributing, which is owned by Rhinegeist Brewery of Cincinnati, opposed the bill.
Rhinegeist created Riverghost when the company was looking to expand into Kentucky, but couldn’t find a wholesale partner it believed would have the adequate resources to devote proper mindshare to its own brands.
“So we consulted our attorneys, as well as departments of commerce in Ohio and Kentucky, both of which concurred that opening a distribution company in Kentucky would be entirely legal,” wrote Bob Bonder and Bryant Goulding, co-founders of Rhinegeist and Riverghost, in an op-ed yesterday on Kentucky.com. “We built a plan, invested $250,000 and received our distribution and wholesaler licenses in December, with a goal of creating 50 jobs in three to five years.”
Neither Bonder nor Goulding could be reached for comment as of press time.
There had been talk of writing an exemption into the bill that would essentially grandfather in existing businesses such as Riverghost and the two A-B wholesalers, but as currently written, there is no such carve-out.
There is at least one noteworthy difference between Riverghost and the wholesale companies operated by A-B which the bill does not address: While A-B’s distributors sell only A-B products, Riverghost sells Rhinegeist beers as well as wine products from Winecraft, an Ohio wholesaler and importer of international wines.
The bill passed today out of the Licensing, Occupations & Administrative Regulations committee with a vote of 8-3 and is scheduled for vote in the full Senate Wednesday.