Restaurants located with the city limits of Tellico Plains now have the option to brew specialty beer and other alcoholic beverages.
A bill passed by the Tennessee General Assembly at the end of the 2013 session amended the 2009 state law, allowing the manufacture of intoxicating liquors and beverages with no greater than 5-percent alcohol by weight in jurisdictions that meet certain standards.
The Monroe County Commission voted to not opt out of the state law, making the county eligible for a distillery to locate in the county. Each municipality, however, had the choice of opting out or maintaining the county’s overall decision, as the county only has the power to make the decision for the unincorporated areas.
Of the six criteria, Tellico Plains was affected by the law because it allows package sales and the consumption of alcoholic beverages on the premises of businesses.
The state distillery law went into effect on July 1, 2013, but at the time, the Tellico Plains City Council voted in a unanimous vote to opt out of the state distillery legislation, passing a resolution to send back to the Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
At that time, Mayor Patrick Hawkins told the City Council that while they were opting out, the town could rescind that decision later on if for any reason they decided to allow it.
As it turns out, that would be exactly what happened.
After being approached by two different people asking the City Council to consider revisiting the resolution, Hawkins brought it before the board during their meeting on Thursday night.
“With our beer permits, we’ve not had hardly any issues or problems,” Hawkins told the City Council. “The Police Department can vouch for that. Everyone seems to conform really well. We’ve not had any issues with underage sales or after-hour sales.”
“This would be similar to what restaurants like Smoky Mountain Brewery do,” explained Hawkins. “It allows them to make low-gravity beer to sell in their restaurants. Right now, they have to buy from a distributor in bottles or cans. There are state guidelines they have to abide by, and the Alcoholic Beverage Commission would come in and check the alcohol content. It’s pretty well looked at and subject to inspections just like food services.”
In 2017, a new state law allowed brewers to serve a slightly higher gravity beer—increasing the alcohol by volume limit from 6.3 percent (5 percent by weight) to 10.1 percent (8 percent by weight).
“Under our town laws, it has to be at least 50 percent food sales to be combined with the sell of alcohol,” said Hawkins. “Basically, they would have to be a restaurant in order to be allowed to have a brewery site.”
Hawkins said while rescinding the resolution would technically allow a distillery to locate within the city limits, liquor isn’t allowed in Tellico Plains because of the town’s population.
“That would have to be put on a ballot and be voted on,” he said.
The City Council members thought rescinding the resolution to opt in and allow restaurants to brew their own specialty beers and alcoholic beverages would be an even bigger tourist draw for the “Little Town with the Big Backyard.”
“That’s a really popular thing right now,” said Alderwoman Sherri Raby. “There are a lot of tourists who come in that will like that it is available here.”
Hawkins said if there is ever a problem, the town’s Beer Board has the authority to revoke a restaurant’s beer license.
With a motion by Raby and a second by Alderman Robert Hamilton to rescind the original 2013 vote and to pass a resolution to opt in, only newly-elected Alderwoman Marilyn Parker had hesitation.
“I understand that it’s already there. I understand that the people (asking for it) are responsible people. In my heart of hearts, I have a hard time saying, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ I know it’s good for the town and I don’t want to stand against it. Can I abstain?” Parker asked. “I don’t have a problem with people drinking, but we have too many people who are irresponsible and families are affected by that.”
“I respect that wholeheartedly,” said Hawkins.
The motion passed 4-1 and restaurants will now have the option to brew specialty beers and alcoholic beverages in Tellico Plains.