Discriminating North Carolina drinkers will soon have a more diverse array of beverage choices at their disposal.

The state Senate voted Aug. 3 to increase the limit on alcohol content for beer and other malt beverages sold in the state from six to 15 percent—an increase that allows for the sale of beers up to four times stronger than some currently popular brands. Beers such as Budweiser and Miller, for instance, have an alcohol content of around 4.6 percent.

Gov. Mike Easley signed House Bill 392 into law Aug. 13—joining North Carolina with 44 other states that no longer have a six percent alcohol cap.

The change is the culmination of the “Pop the Cap” campaign that began two years ago to help push the bill through the General Assembly.

“It’s an inane law that’s a holdover from prohibition,” Sean Wilson, president and co-founder of the campaign, said of the old potency cap. “It limits a third of the world’s beer styles. Some people are into great food, some people are into great wine and there are some residents of North Carolina that are also into really great specialty beer.”

Prior to its passage, there was only modest opposition to the bill, due in part to the fact that some alcohol safety awareness organizations, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, took an officially neutral stance on altering the cap.

Wilson noted that there is no statistical evidence that suggests the new law will pose a higher risk of underage drinking or drunk driving.

“The data shows that states without a six percent cap have the same rate of drunk driving as those who do,” said Wilson, who graduated from the Fuqua School of Business and Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy in 2000.

Leanora Minai, senior public relations specialist for Duke University Police Department, did not express concern that the higher cap would increase underage drinking, noting that there are already hard liquors available to students that have alcohol contents much higher than 15 percent.

Minai did caution students, however, to be more aware of alcohol content when drinking.

“The message we’d like to get across is we would urge students to be aware of the labels,” she said. “If they go to a party, people might want to pay particular attention to the type of beer—and to drink responsibly. Certain beers are going to be more potent.”

Kammie Michael, spokesperson for the Durham Police Department, expressed similar sentiments.

“We hope that people will realize that their tolerance levels may be affected by an increase in alcohol content,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Michael also noted that all beer with alcohol—regardless of its content—is illegal for underage consumption.

“Underage drinking is against the law so people under 21 should not be drinking any beers,” Michael wrote.

With the cap increase approved, several local pubs and breweries, such as the James Joyce Irish Pub and Tyler’s Restaurant and Taproom, are planning to add at least some stronger beers to their offerings.