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Vermont bill would OK direct shipment of craft brews

(AP) _ In Vermont, a hotbed of craft beer brewing, lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow brewers to ship their beer directly to consumers to expand their markets and reach their niche customers nationwide.

The state already allows wineries to ship wine directly to consumers after changing the law, but beer shipments are illegal. That means beer aficionados who want to sample some of Vermont's artisan craft beers either have to come to the state to buy it or purchase it online illegally. Allowing breweries to ship beer would cut down on some of that, brewers say.

"It creates a new channel for sales for really small and artisanal brewers, in particular," said Sean Lawson of Lawson's Finest Liquids in Warren who is president of the Vermont Brewers Association. "Given the costs of shipping, it really only makes sense for the higher end products in the beer market, so really specialty beers."

A retailer and a distributors association testified Wednesday before a House committee that they are concerned about being shipped to underage consumers. They say that if Vermont allows beer to be shipped in state, then it would have to open itself up to out-of-state breweries shipping beer to Vermont customers.

"If you allow in-state shipping, these products are going to be delivered to somebody ordering it off the Internet. It absolutely is going to happen," said George Bergin, co-owner of the Vermont Wholesale Beverage in Winooski.

Selling alcohol in stores helps the Department of Liquor Control monitor who the beer is sold to and what condition they're in when they buy it, to ensure they're selling it safely, he said.

Vermont brewers are already allowed to export beer to other states, but only a limited number of states- including California, New Hampshire and Oregon- allow it to be shipped directly to consumers. California right now only allows instate shipments and Oregon restricts the shipments to between retailers and consumers.

The U.S. Postal Service doesn't allow beer to be mailed, and certain carriers also forbid its shipment.

But there are clear policies for the direct shipment of wine in about 40 states, including Vermont, said Lawson.
It's proved to be a very successful avenue for small and medium wineries who have limited distribution and a sought-after product, he said.

"I definitely see how that can be an important route to market for breweries that put out products that warrants the price to ship it," Lawson said.