Alcohol Legislation in North Carolina

In reference to Alcohol sales, a State that is “Controlled” means that alcohol can only be purchased through the state. Therefore, restaurants, ABC stores, and grocery stores must adhere to the restrictive laws that North Carolina puts in place. The Agency overseeing this regulation is the Alcohol Law Enforcement Branch (ironically, ALE). According to their website, the agency intends to uphold public safety, claiming that unregulated and free-spirited alcohol sales are a haven for gambling, drug activity, and other crimes. Is this true? Does alcohol invoke the same atmosphere that it did pre-prohibition with its saloons, money launderers, and drug problems? Or is it possible that alcohol has evolved into a new social product that if kept untapped to its fullest potential, keep North Carolina from serious growth?

Alcohol and North Carolina seem to always be at war.

A whole twelve years before prohibition, North Carolina declared itself a dry state and did not repeal it until 2 years after the 21 first amendment.

In 1937, the Alcoholic Beverage Control bill was passed which put in place ABC stores which designated the sale of alcohol, as well as letting counties decide if alcohol could be made and purchased within its borders. Even then, some counties remained dry and did not allow alcohol sales. Today, the only dry county left is Graham.

These laws and regulations have not stopped the North Carolinian Entrepreneur, however. Today there are almost 300 breweries, 200 wineries and even more distilleries, all jumping through hoops to sell their products. One of the largest obstacles they have had to overcome is the three-tier system.

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In this system, the business cannot sell directly to a customer. They must sell to a distributor and then to a wholesaler. This gives all the financial power to the wholesaler rather than the producer.

These laws have affected the residents of North Carolina as well. For underage drinkers, there is a zero-tolerance policy. These kids are unable to drink in their homes, try their parent’s drinks in restaurants, or even participate in their own religious ceremonies. Especially in the case of driving, any amount of alcohol content in a breathalyzer could result in a DUI. This is blatantly unfair since most medicines and some foods contain some amount of alcohol. Even if the driver refuses to have a breathalyzer test done, an officer need only claim they smell alcohol in the driver’s breath, or general area to force a test.

Why are such restrictive rules in place? Alcohol related crime. Drunk driving is still one of the number one killers of American youth. Other crimes surround allowing minors to drink, abuse, robbery, and more. Is alcohol to blame for all of them?

I argue that with amendments to the current laws regarding the production and sale of beer, wines, and liquors, North Carolina could see an exponential growth in revenue, as well as jobs surrounding these industries. Not to mention the current no tolerance laws that restrict children from learning about alcohol in their own homes with their guardians. Levitation of these laws could lead to reduced crime rates, more safe and legal alcohol sales that all contribute to a growing economy in this state.

After the “Pop the Cap” movement in 2005, which was a bill that would move the alcohol percentage allowance of beer to be moved from a limit of 6 percent to a limit of 15 percent, these incentivized hundreds of breweries to open. Kathleen Purvis noted in one of her articles that almost 10,000 jobs were created at these breweries. A huge economic boom for North Carolina and a bringing in an estimated 791 million a year is being brought in by craft breweries (Purvis, 2015). Then again in 2017 when the Brunch Bill was enacted, this allowed alcohol to be served at 10 am on Sundays rather than after 1 o’clock when brunch time hours were over. This let restaurants sell brunch mimosas and other drinks earlier, making them more profitable, and therefore circulating back into the local economy. Various religious groups have fought hard against these laws saying that people will be out drinking instead of going to church, demonizing the movement. This has not phased local business however, for they know that choice relays purely on the customer.

The three-tier system essentially means that a privately-owned brewer cannot sell directly to the consumer. This is different from brewpubs because in a brew pub, that product is immediately being consumed and nothing is taken home with them. A small brewery who just wants to sell their bottles to consumers in their own store cannot, and they cannot sell directly to a retailer either. A brewery must go throw a distributor who then gives the product to the retailer.

The problems with the three-tier system have been disputed for a while. Some say having a distributor ensures safe practices and quality product. Also, the small brewery can have their product distributed over long distances to a wide range of consumers. However, this also gives the distributor power over the breweries brand allowing them to use it in marketing and sales, taking away power from the small brewer/distillery.

This is slowly changing however, within the past three years there has been new legislation that has allowed for some restaurants to buy directly from breweries and wineries in small controlled amounts. For distilleries, they cannot sell directly to the restaurants, but they can sell five bottles per person per years. This makes them a tourist destination, this incentivizes other businesses to move in such as entertainment and culinary industries that increase jobs, and the wellbeing surrounding that community.

Another situation surrounding alcohol is the use of minors. A minor is anyone under the age of 21. In North Carolina, anyone of the age of 18 can serve alcohol in a business, but they cannot partake in drinking it at any time until they turn 21. However, and Alcoholics Anonymous found that out of 457,000 individuals, 39,000 of those individuals were between the ages of 12 through 17. How does this happen? There is a stigma around drinking alcohol in America’s youth. Most alcohol education revolves around the idea of abstinence and saying, “no.” These educators will tell you that alcohol use can be a gateway to using drugs and a downhill slope of addiction, and that alcohol poisoning is all to easy to fall victim. Then, these same young adults go out and drink and make poor decisions. The movies and advertisements that surround them on a day to day basis encourage them to drink and make false assumptions about their situation and make poor decisions.

If kids could be taught in their homes that alcohol is nothing to be afraid of, and properly educated on how to use it safely, the stigmas around alcohol and young people could be broken and we could see a dramatic decrease in abuse.

The last concern I will cover is alcohol related crime. Driving while drunk can put you and other drivers at a serious risk. In 2015 alone, 411 people in North Carolina died in drunk driving related accidents. This can be reduced by encouraging businesses to call cabs for customers, allowing people to sleep in their cars without getting charged with DUI’s, and more alcohol education.

Alcohol is an overly controlled substance in the state of North Carolina. The state and religious groups attempting to hold back changing legislation are holding the state back from progress. A deregulation of Alcohol Legislation would mean a boost in local economies, bringing in new businesses and helping already existing business. Deregulation would also mean a change in what schools can and cannot teach about alcohol, as well as parental guardians, which would ruin false stigmas surrounding underage drinking. Lastly, we would see a decrease in alcohol related crime. Adults would not be criminalized for teaching their children about alcohol through the use of allowing them to drink or partake in religious ceremonies. Furthermore, minors would not be punished so harshly for having certain blood alcohol content. All of this would result in a better environment for North Carolinians to live and thrive in.

If I had more time to research this topic, I would have covered more topics like wine legislation, homebrewing, and in-depth research on how European drinking culture is different from North American drinking culture. Wine production is just as important, even though the beverage may be considered “old fashioned” and less desirable than other party drinks. Wine has a rich and deep history and, like beer can be brewed at home. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed into law the legalization of brewing beer and wine at home.

This was probably to decriminalize something that people and families have been doing for centuries and will most likely not stop anytime soon. States still can regulate the amount of alcohol and how much an individual can produce. Other stipulations around this law is that the alcoholic beverages cannot be sold and cannot exceed the legal ABV (present day) limit of 15 percent, and the alcohol must be from natural fermentation (Homebrewers Association, 2017). Meaning brew kits are available throughout the state. Many stores are stretch across North Carolina today that provide all the ingredients for homebrewers as well as kits and bottles, such as Alternative beverage, Beer & Wine Hobbies, and many more. Great for anyone with some free time and a passion for a good drink. Then, most European cultures start their children drinking watered down versions of alcohol. This leads to a reduction of binge drinking in the future, since the child is already familiar with the product.


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  3. Grinberg, Danielle. “Mapped & Ranked: The States With the Most Craft Breweries in 2017.” VinePair, 19 Oct. 2018,
  4. Laycock, Richard. “Drunk Driving Statistics.” Finder US, Finder US, 18 Nov. 2018,
  5. Trump, John. “N.C. Treats Distilleries Differently from Breweries, Wineries, but Why?” Carolina Journal, Carolina Journal, 12 Feb. 2018,
  6. Young, Wes. “Distillers (Mostly) like New Sales Rules.” Winston-Salem Journal, Winston-Salem Journal, 30 July 2017,
  7. Hanson, David J. “North Carolina Alcohol Laws: Be Aware of Them.” Alcohol Problems & Solutions, 2 Nov. 2017,
  8. Ossowski, YAËL. “Let’s Get Real about N.C.’s Alcohol Laws (Including the Drinking Age).” Charlotteobserver, Charlotte Observer, 23 Feb. 2017,
  9. Purvis, Kathleen. “NC Beer Facts & Figures.” Home – North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild, 2015,
  10. Wilson, Sean. “Pop The Cap.” Fullsteam Brewery,

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Alcohol Legislation in North Carolina. (2021, Dec 15). Retrieved from

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