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More States May Put Beer Samples On Tap

RALEIGH, N.C. - As state lawmakers work on a budget that raises North Carolinians' taxes and slashes the services they use, they're also poised to offer something to offset some of the pain - free beer.

Although wine tastings have become commonplace, states from Vermont to Texas to Washington have moved to let people take a sip of a cold one before deciding what brand to buy.

Beneficiaries include microbreweries that sometimes have few other ways to advertise. "One of the big benefits of a tasting is it allows a brewer to make a face-to-face connection with the person enjoying the beer," says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association.

Tastings also can give an edge to larger breweries with the staff to make the rounds, he says.

Vermont started allowing beer tastings last year, one year after authorizing similar events for wine, says George Bergin, owner of the Beverage Warehouse in Winooski, Vt.

"Beer tastings are probably our most popular events, more so than wine," Bergin says. "We will have people standing in line for four hours to try beer."

Elsewhere:

Washington@ state is nearing the end of a year-long pilot program for 30 grocery stores. Most have offered wine and skipped beer, liquor control board spokesman Brian Smith says. But Washington Brewers Guild President Heather McClung predicts that brewers will join in if the Legislature approves tastings statewide next year.

Texas@ legislators authorized wine and beer tastings at grocery stores in 2007, says Thomas Graham, marketing practices supervisor for the state's Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

New York@ began beer tastings in 2007, says Bill Crowley, spokesman for the State Liquor Authority.

Oregon, Florida and South Dakota also allow beer tastings in grocery stores, according to state alcohol officials.

North Carolina's Senate and House have approved slightly different bills setting up the same permit process for beer as for wine. The bill awaits final House approval and Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue's signature.

Few North Carolina lawmakers have opposed the bipartisan effort to allow beer tastings, despite some objections. Mark Creech of the Christian Action League of North Carolina says beer, unlike wine, is the beverage of choice for underage drinkers.

Rep. Thom Tillis, a Charlotte Republican, assured lawmakers that tastings wouldn't attract minors used to cheap beer. Milwaukee's Best, he says, is unlikely to be on the menu.

James Butler of the California Council on Alcohol Problems says challenges by opponents there have left proposed legislation likely to be postponed until next year.

Schrader reports for the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times

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