Alcohol board still allows ‘fun’ at distilleries and breweries

Amalga Distillery sports a full house during First Friday on Oct. 6, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Amalga Distillery sports a full house during First Friday on Oct. 6, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Alaska’s alcohol control board declined to ban distilleries and breweries from hosting fundraisers and special events, but the board did vote to advance a proposal that would change the way distilleries can serve cocktails.

In a 3-0 vote, the board voted to open public comment on a regulation proposal that would ban distillery employees from mixing cocktails. Under the plan, distilleries would serve mixers separately from alcohol, and the customer would have to mix them.

“I think that the proposed regulations create contrived inconveniences on our business. They seem shortsighted and out of touch with industry standards that we see with distillery tasting rooms down south,” said Brandon Howard, one of the owners of Juneau’s Amalga Distillery, after the vote.

The proposed regulations come from a gap in the 2014 legislation that allowed distilleries to open tasting rooms attached to their manufacturing plants.

HB 309 says in part: “a holder of a distillery license may sell not more than three ounces a day of the distillery’s product to a person for consumption on the premises.”

The bill failed to define “distillery’s product” and it did not explicitly permit or deny distilleries to mix their product with fruit juice or syrup to create cocktails.

In the three years since the passage of HB 309, distilleries have interpreted the law to allow cocktails. Earlier this year, the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office said the issue wasn’t clear. It asked the alcohol board to define “distillery’s product” and decide whether cocktails should be allowed.

In a deadlocked 2-2 vote during its October meeting, the board failed to do so and left the existing ambiguity in place. Distillers say that because cocktails are not mentioned, they should be allowed. Others have testified that distilleries are intended to be manufacturers first, and if they are allowed to serve cocktails, they become more like bars.

Monday afternoon’s vote opens a public comment period for the cocktail issue. Information on how to submit a public comment will be posted on AMCO’s website, www.commerce.alaska.gov/web/amco.

In other business Monday, the alcohol board declined to state its position on what qualifies as “entertainment” at a brewery or distillery. Under state law, breweries and distilleries that offer tasting rooms are not allowed to host live music, games or have televisions, among other restrictions.

AMCO director Erika McConnell, in a memo explaining why the board needs to clarify its stance, said distilleries and breweries have hosted yoga, painting parties, yodeling contests, “festivals, parties, and fundraisers, including food and ‘fun.’”

While the board took no action, Evan Wood of Devil’s Club Brewing Company — a brewery scheduled to open in early 2018 on Franklin Street — said the idea of board action was alarming.

“It’s terrifying, and it sets a really scary precedent for anyone who’s trying to make a business, because you don’t know how laws will be interpreted from one year to the next,” he said.

 


 

• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.

 


 

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