Sen. Bill Cunningham

SPRINGFIELD – Senator Bill Cunningham passed a plan out of the Illinois Senate that would allow small breweries, meaderies, and winemakers to distribute their products to local bars, grocery stores, and liquor stores directly rather than through a third party, helping local businesses reach their customers.

“We’ve seen an explosion of small beer, wine, and mead makers in recent years, and they’ve become staples of our local bar and restaurant scene,” said Cunningham, a Democrat who represents portions of Chicago and the southwest suburbs. “People want to be able to buy their products at local grocery and liquor stores, and we should make that easier to do.”

Under current Illinois law, most companies that produce alcohol have to sell their products to local grocery and liquor stores through a third-party distributor. Tracing back to the post-prohibition era, this set up is meant to help prevent the unregulated sale of alcohol and aid in the collection of alcohol-related taxes. It is still employed by almost every state in the U.S.

While this system is not difficult to navigate for large companies, small breweries and wineries sometimes find it hard to get their products into local stores where demand is greatest. By allowing small breweries and wineries to self-distribute, they can reach more local customers more easily. Once the companies reach a specified sales threshold, they would still have to use the third-party distribution system.

“Many of our local microbreweries and meaderies struggled to stay open during the pandemic,” Cunningham said. “Allowing them to reach their customers more easily will help them recover and keep their doors open.”

The district Cunningham represents includes Horse Thief Hollow brewpub, Open Outcry Brewing Company, and Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago.

House Bill 2620 now returns to the Illinois House for further consideration.