mountain_brew_festival_hendersonville_2_2015An Asheville-area environmental nonprofit MountainTrue on Tuesday announced that it was canceling its first ever Mountain Brew Fest beer festival set for downtown Hendersonville this weekend. The event would have also been the first beer festival held in downtown Hendersonville, featuring about 20 area brewers and situated near Hendersonville’s downtown craft brewery, Southern Appalachian Brewery.

MountainTrue blamed difficulties in working with officials from the N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement Agency and the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control agency. The ABC agency oversees alcohol sales in the state, while ALE officials enforce state alcohol law. MountainTrue is Western North Carolina’s oldest environmental nonprofit, and it organized the event to showcase its efforts to protect the environment and celebrate the local craft beer culture.

Since the start of this year, Asheville-area ALE officials have stepped up the enforcement of alcohol laws at beer festivals. (See background links at the bottom of this story.)

 

Here’s the full statement, as posted on the MountainTrue page on Facebook:

Our hope was that this festival would be an opportunity to build community, support local brewers and help display MountainTrue’s presence as an advocate for a healthy environment in Henderson County and the region as a whole.

Unfortunately, due to our and others inability to get clear and consistent answers regarding event requirements from the Alcohol Beverage Control and Alcohol Law Enforcement agencies, we determined that it was impossible to ensure the kind of high-quality event our community deserves.

Despite being in constant communication with ALE and ABC since early June, we were unable to get the answers we needed to proceed. In the final weeks leading up to the festival, continued ambiguity on the parts of ALE and ABC, as well as the prospect of disciplinary action, led several brewers to decline participation, diminishing the event’s core attraction.
Craft brewing is a major economic driver in our area, and we want to maintain constructive relationships with our wonderful brewing community. In this case, that meant not moving forward with an event in which they were at risk of being penalized by agencies who provided unclear and even conflicting information.

Increased enforcement of previously unregulated permitting hurdles has created an environment of uncertainty for the future of beer festivals, which often provide financial support for non-profits like MountainTrue. Indeed, MountainTrue is also a beneficiary of both the Winter Warmer Beer Festival and the Oskar Blues Burning Can festival in Brevard.
In July, such enforcement resulted in the loss of fundraising revenue from the Burning Can Festival. Amazingly, brewers and attendees have responded to that setback with donations of their own. Both before and since that event, MountainTrue and brewers have worked diligently to avoid repeating that situation, only to be met with delays and lack of clarity.

This kind of uncertainty in the face of harsh penalties has an unfortunate chilling effect in an area where craft beer has built such an impressive reputation. MountainTrue would welcome the opportunity to be part of the conversation with ABC and ALE, brewers and others, on how to overcome these issues, and we hope to be able to revive Mountain Brew Fest in 2016.

We would like to thank all of the brewers, sponsors, volunteers, musical acts and food vendors who made their commitment to MountainTrue and Mountain Brew Fest, as well as the City of Hendersonville.
All ticket holders will receive a full refund. MountainTrue appreciates everyone who wanted to make this a great community event.

Background on N.C. ALE enforcement in Western North Carolina:

N.C. ALE pours cold water on Oskar Blues beer festival

N.C. ALE puts Asheville area craft brewers on notice

22 Comments

  1. Representative McGrady: “An interesting interlude occurred midweek, when MountainTrue announced the cancellation of its Mountain Brew Fest, citing the inability of some number of breweries to get the necessary permits to serve beer at the event. This announcement followed an earlier snafu with Oskar Blues‘ Burning Can Festival. MountainTrue’s press release largely blamed state government bureaucracy for the cancellation of the event.

    Not unexpectedly, I heard from both a county commissioner and a Hendersonville City councilman about the cancellation. The concern wasn’t so much the cancellation of the Mountain Brew Fest, but a worry as to whether a similar problem might affect the hugely popular Rhythm and Brews event held in Hendersonville.

    My office immediately contacted both the Alcohol Beverage Commission (ABC) and Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE), and I talked with Sierra Nevada management. While it appears that there is no risk that Rhythm and Brews will suffer the same fate as the Mountain Brew Fest, I’m committed to determining whether our regulatory process for such events is antiquated.

    Folks should remember that just a few years ago we had no breweries in Henderson County and the last place you’d think about holding a beer-related event on a Sunday would be Mills River. All of that has changed. A few months ago, I attended a festival at Sierra Nevada’s brewery on a Sunday where I had some beer along with county commissioners and Mills River officials.

    The state’s alcoholic beverage laws have been slow to change. While this is understandable given how long the entire nation struggled with alcoholic beverage regulation, including two amendments to the U.S. Constitution, it is time for reform of our state laws regulating alcoholic beverages. Over the past four years, we’ve in a piecemeal fashion addressed issues like selling beer and cider in growlers and allowing more on-site opportunities for breweries to sell their products. My hope is that we see a more comprehensive revision of our state’s laws governing alcoholic beverages in the near future.”

  2. Ok – yes this has been a frustrating year with ALE regulations but there is probably Much more to this.
    #1 -ABA and brewers attnys are working on clarifying regulations (and making progress)
    #2- the issues have been with ancient cross-marketing rules and with out of state brewers coming in for festivals without NC distributors or taxes (exactly the issue Burning Can had)

    If this was a local NC brewer festival, there are simple permits to be filed and it would be no problem (see Beer City Fest/Winter Warmer that were pulled off and ALE just got too personal with brewer drinking). If out of state brewers were not involved, it should be a no brainier so I bet something else is going on here – potentially low ticket sales or JUNE meetings for an August event is pushing it when looking at filing timely paperwork, permits etc.

    Chief Batega and local ABC are great people who work really well with events and businesses.id be interested in his response to this. ALE in Raleigh have been unfriendly but this event seems to avoid that agency’s pitfalls.
    Doesn’t this press release read just like moogfests “letter to Asheville” – basically throwing blame around? It’s a biting letter and i’d be surprised if there wasn’t more to this.

  3. Good story except for one omission: The title of MoutainTrue’s comment.

    “MountainTrue cancels Mountain Brew Fest, cites regulatory obstacles”

    I love it when progressives are hoist by their own petard.

    • hoist by /with one’s own petard, hurt, ruined, or destroyed by the very device or plot one had intended for another.

      What device or plot was it that you believe MountainTrue intended for another?

  4. From WLOS-

    UPDATE — From Stacey Cox, ALE Agent Asheville

    “A small handful of Brewers didn’t have correct permits to serve in North Carolina, but we were not actively involved in anything recently with the Brew Fest. They had a special one-time permit and we had no idea of problems or that the festival was being cancelled.”

    “We had originally received a call from a representative from Mountain True, an affiliated nonprofit back in Jy. She was asking what the festival needed to do to get their ducks in a row for the brew fest. ”

    “The brew fest was issued a special one time permit as a non-profit event. The festival had to have that to sell beer at a designated site.”

  5. Ok – yes this has been a frustrating year with ALE regulations but there is probably Much more to this.
    #1 -ABA and brewers attnys are working on clarifying regulations (and making progress)
    #2- the issues have been with ancient cross-marketing rules and with out of state brewers coming in for festivals without NC distributors or taxes (exactly the issue Burning Can had)

    If this was a local NC brewer festival, there are simple permits to be filed and it would be no problem (see Beer City Fest/Winter Warmer that were pulled off and ALE just got too personal with brewer drinking). If out of state brewers were not involved, it should be a no brainier so I bet something else is going on here – potentially low ticket sales or JUNE meetings for an August event is pushing it when looking at filing timely paperwork, permits etc.

    Chief Batega and local ABC are great people who work really well with events and businesses.id be interested in his response to this. ALE in Raleigh have been unfriendly but this event seems to avoid that agency’s pitfalls.
    Doesn’t this press release read just like moogfests “letter to Asheville” – basically throwing blame around? It’s a biting letter and i’d be surprised if there wasn’t more to this.

  6. No doubt..

  7. Good point! Is NATURAL SELECTIONS: THE WAKE COUNTY SCIENCE AND BREWERS EXPO 2015 having problems? It’s this Friday, maybe they need to be shut down by ALE.

  8. Broadway Barney says:

    One has to wonder if the recent heat from ALE has been directed by the GOP power brokers in Raleigh to show their animosity and disdain for Asheville? Don’t think little Timmy Moffitt isn’t still lingering in those dark, smoke filled back rooms.

  9. The state needs to get a handle on this quickly. Why after all this time and with lots of successful festivals is this happening now?

  10. Itsbeenagoodrun says:

    This is the concern many have in the beer community. These laws have many gray areas and often it is up to the law enforcement officer to decide whether they believe a brewery, festival, bar is in compliance. All it takes is one new guy to show up and see the other side of the gray and they can shut you down. The laws aren’t clear and the enforcement even less clear. Of course everyone wants to obey the law but it’s hard when you don’t know what the law is.

  11. Jason, does anyone suspect that there is a concerted effort by these two agencies (and perhaps others in Raleigh) to sabotage these beer events…

    why else would there be consistent, conflicting information coming from them based upon the same set of laws…

    • I was wondering the same thing….and wondering if these issues are occurring in Charlotte, Durham, Wilmington, etc….or just in WNC. Would be interested to know. But I agree that these 2 agencies need to get it together and fast.

  12. This is incredible…

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