Exactly 160 years ago this June, more than 1,000 Portlanders clashed violently with the state militia in what’s known as the Maine Law Riot. They were protesting Maine’s first-in-the-nation alcohol prohibition law. The conflict ended when Neal Dow, the city’s pro-temperance mayor, ordered the troops to fire into the crowd, killing one protester and wounding seven others.

The clash presaged almost a century of bitter conflict in Maine and across the country as other states and then the nation first adopted and then repealed so-called “Maine laws.”

The politics of alcohol in Maine are a bit mellower now, and the bills on alcohol that the 127th Legislature will consider in the coming months are much less likely to result in gunfire and deaths. In fact, they mostly concern Maine’s burgeoning craft beer industry, which is nearly universally recognized as a bright spot on Maine’s cultural and economic landscape.

“You may see us in the news a lot, but it’s really just about correcting a lot of the laws that were passed in the post-Prohibition period,” explained Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers Guild, when asked about the proposed legislation affecting the craft brewers he represents.

One bill the guild supports is a measure proposed by Shipyard Brewing Co. to allow up to nine small brewers to gain “alternate proprietorship” status at a larger brewery. This would allow them to act as tenants, sharing the brewery’s equipment and paying an amount in federal excise taxes based on the amount of beer they alone produce, rather than the rate charged to the larger brewer.

The bill was proposed by Democratic Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond of Portland and seems likely to pass.

Another bill, proposed by Republican Rep. Susan Austin of Gray, would allow breweries to fill growlers – large glass containers that can be purchased and refilled at many breweries and brew pubs – sold by other breweries in addition to those they’ve sold themselves. Current law requires that brewers sell beer only in containers with their own labeling.

This could be a particularly useful innovation for Maine beer geeks, as they wouldn’t have to remember to bring specific growlers to specific breweries in order to buy refills of beer.

A more expansive growler bill, which would have allowed growlers to be filled and sold at retail establishments, was defeated two years ago after objections from some Maine brewers who felt it could mean a loss of control over the quality of their beer.

One other beer-related piece of legislation has already garnered some public attention and public debate: a bill by Democratic Sen. John Patrick of Rumford to make sure that a pint of beer is always at least 16 ounces, cracking down on “cheater pints,” which, Patrick says, are costing consumers millions of dollars’ worth of beer.

“Our rights as consumers are constantly under attack by unscrupulous businesses, and we need to be protected with regards to, at the very least, knowing that we are always getting the full measure for what we pay,” argued Bumper White of the Full Pint Association of Maine in testimony before the Legislature supporting the bill.

Pubs and breweries, on the other hand, argue that the issue is a matter of consumer fraud and unfair business practices that should be handled by the Attorney General’s Office, rather than involving Maine liquor enforcement officials.

Maine lawmakers at the national level are also weighing in on beer-related issues. Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is a lead sponsor of the Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act (or Small BREW Act).

The bill would reduce the excise tax on small breweries to help them compete in a market that is still, despite the recent flowering of craft breweries, dominated by big corporations such as Anheuser-Busch InBev. Just four breweries make up 89.5 percent of the beer market, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group for small and independent craft brewers in the U.S.

The big breweries have submitted their own legislation (called the Fair BEER Act), which would similarly reduce excise taxes but also lock in their competitive advantage over craft brewers.

Most of Maine’s congressional delegation is supporting the Small BREW Act over the big breweries’ bill, with only 2nd District Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin not having yet taken a position on the issue.

Regardless of the outcome of these specific bills, the craft beer market in Maine seems poised to continue to expand and thrive. Last week, in the Hancock County town of Amherst, the Square Tail Brewing Co. opened its doors, bringing the number of craft breweries in Maine to 61, up from just 35 two years ago. More are in the planning stages all over the state.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at:

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Twitter: @miketipping