Local brewers weigh in on new FDA content rules

Posted at 8:12 PM, Dec 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-17 10:36:51-05

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now taking interest in craft breweries by proposing new regulations that could cost beer makers big bucks to keep their brews on-tap.

The new regulations will require breweries to list nutritional content if they want to keep serving their suds at chain restaurants and brew pubs.

Tri-State brewers are trying to figure out how to respond to the issue.

Mt. Carmel owner and founder Mike Dewey said that with his 11 years of experience, he expected the mandate to be “more of a when versus an if.”

Dewey considered putting the nutritional value on his beers five years ago but was limited at the time by cost and limited space on the bottles.

“In today's modern craft beer scene the biggest cost to brewers and consumers alike may not be paying a bit more for their brew, but instead suffering from the dampening effect this could have on our creativity,” Dewey said. “Today's market thrives on new products that may only have a short sales window. It will be more difficult to absorb the extra overhead into said limited offerings versus the flagship styles that we produce continually.”

Greg Hardman, longtime businessman and owner of Christian Moerlein Brewing Co., also worries about the effect the move will have on the industry. He said the move could disproportionately hurt smaller brewers and have a chilling effect on competition.

“It’s just another example of a burdensome rule that will cost small independent craft brewers more money when alternative technology is available to disseminate the nutritional information for consumers. It will limit choice due to the dollars needed to comply and small independent brewers only have limited budgets,” Hardman said.

Over in Columbia Township, the brewers at MadTree are keeping an eye on the regulations. For them, the move will be costly to start but could end up spurring new investment back into the business.

“The process isn't inexpensive and it will likely end up limiting varieties of beers offered to chains in the future. However, we understand the importance of being transparent with consumers and want to support people in making decisions about what they choose to drink,” MadTree co-founder Jeff Hunt said. “Initially, it will require that we send beers out for testing but we hope to be able to test it in-house within the next few years as we expand the capabilities of our laboratory.”

Nationally, some brewers scoff at the idea of having nutritional labels. Those brewers think people know the difference between a beer and a salad.

“We're not going to surprise anybody when that caloric count doesn't say zero. People generally know what they've signed up for,” said Mike Lawinski, owner of Fate Brewing Company.

The craft brewers say they have no problem with full-transparency.

“People do count calories and watch what they intake, otherwise there wouldn't be a such thing as ultra-beers,” said Justin Tilotta with Twisted Pine Brewing Company. “Craft brewers would love ingredients to be listed as well. Full disclosure of ingredients because that's really what separates us as ‘craft’ and a lot of the bigger breweries are using GMO ingredients and high fructose ingredients."

That being said, the real issue comes down to cost. Small breweries will have to spend hundreds of dollars per beer to analyze the nutritional value of each type sold.

“A good analysis [will cost] probably somewhere between the $500-$1,000 range of what I’ve seen. Then multiply it across the styles that you have,” said Lawinski.

And at a thousand dollars a pop, that could keep unique and seasonal brews from making it to your favorite watering hole.

The regulations were supposed to kick-in December 1, but the feds have extended the deadline until December 2016, giving the craft beer industry more time to get their labeling in order.