Iowa Legislature looks to clarify what constitutes ‘beer’

Iowa lawmakers are working to clarify the definition of high alcohol content beer. — photo by Arup Malakar via Flickr Creative Commons

A bill working its way through the Iowa Legislature would resolve a discrepancy in beer definitions and what can legally be sold by beer distributors.

In 2010, state lawmakers revised the definition of beer in Iowa Code Chapter 123 and added a separate definition of high alcohol content beer, thus allowing Iowa beer distributors to distribute high alcohol content beer with an ABV up to 15 percent. Previously, beer with an alcohol content higher than 6.25 percent ABV was considered liquor and could only be distributed by the state-run Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division (ABD).

However, despite the definition change and addition in Chapter 123, lawmakers forgot to make corresponding changes to Chapter 123A, which regulates the business between brewers and distributors. There, the definition of beer remained unchanged, and there is no reference to high alcohol content beer.

Companion bills in the Iowa House and Senate propose what Sheila Douglas, the executive director of the Iowa Wholesale Beer Distributors Association, called corrective language that will make the state’s definitions of beer and high alcohol content beer consistent in both Chapter 123 and 123A.

Even though high ABV beer is not mentioned in the distribution regulations, Douglas said distributors have still been able to distribute high ABV beer legally. After the changes in 2010, the ABD offered licenses for distributing high alcohol content beer, so the distributors who have those licenses have been in compliance with the law, she said.

Regardless, Douglas said the definitions in both chapters need to match. To ensure that, the bills — HF 131 and SF 197 — propose corrective language for Chapter 123A so the definitions in both chapters are exactly the same. The outdated definition would be replaced with text that reads, “‘Beer’ means beer or high alcoholic content beer as defined in section 123.3.”

J. Wilson, the minister of Iowa beer for the Iowa Brewers Guild, said the proposal is a matter of “dotting a few I’s and crossing a few T’s with regard to the code.” Nothing will change, but the correction needs to take place to make sure the law reads correctly, he said. The House version of the bill passed, 93–0, on Feb. 10 and its Senate companion was approved by the State Government committee the same day.

“It’ll pass. It’s just so technical,” Douglas said. “It’s vanilla.”

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