N.C. leads as craft beer craze hits the South

For a century, North Carolina and other Southern states had Prohibition-era laws on the books that kept alcohol-by-volume (ABV) levels so low that many craft breweries were prevented from setting up shop. “ABV limits are not a barrier to entry into the market, but it’s clearly a barrier to innovation,” said Bart Watson, an economist at the Brewers Association. “The different regulatory environments in the Southeast tend to [be stacked] against small brewers. But these states are coming to recognize the [economic] value of having local brewers.”

North Carolina was one of the first Southern states to loosen its laws accordingly — raising beer’s ABV limit from 5 percent to 15 percent in 2005. Before then, the state had around 30 breweries. Today, there are 120, according to the N.C. Craft Breweries Guild.

North Carolina has clearly been the most dynamic state in the South, and we’re seeing a lot of production growth,” said Watson, noting the state is the fourth-largest beer producer in the country. The N.C. Craft Breweries Guild estimates that it’s a $700 million industry supporting more than 10,000 jobs. “These are high-value manufacturing jobs,” said Watson. “And there are numerous service jobs that indirectly support the industry, such as agricultural jobs.” Nationwide, craft beer’s annual economic impact is estimated at $33.9 billion, according to the Brewers Association.