The people have spoken, and they don’t like a proposed definition change that would limit the sorts of activities that can happen in breweries and distilleries.
The contents of more than 1,000 pages of public comments shared on the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s website ahead of Tuesday’s board meeting, were largely against regulation that would prohibit festivals, games, competitions, classes, parties, presentations, performances and other types of organized social gatherings at breweries, wineries and distilleries.
The change would come via a new definition for “other recreational opportunities,” which is included along with gaming, live entertainment, televisions and pool tables, in the list of things that currently aren’t allowed in alcohol-manufacturing businesses in Alaska. The vague wording is why First Friday events and fundraisers can happen in Juneau’s alcohol manufacturers’ tasting rooms.
“I think most people see the sort of oddity in the attempt to change the definition there,” said Matt Barnaby, Barnaby Brewing Co. co-owner and brewer.
Both Barnaby and Evan Wood, one of Devil’s Club Brewing Company’s owners, said the public reaction isn’t especially surprising, but it is encouraging.
Wood said he hoped the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board will take the sentiment into account when either voting on the change, amending it to be put out again for public comment or revising it with staff.
Even if the definition change is adopted as written, Barnaby said the public comments still provide a reason to be optimistic.
“It’s encouraging from the sense that even if it does end up getting approved, I think the public will still support us,” Barmaby said. “I think it’s encouraging to know the people will support us regardless of the action.”
Juneau brewers were far from the only people to voice displeasure with the possible regulation.
Haines Chamber of Commerce encouraged the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office to avoid placing additional restriction on businesses.
A bipartisan assortment of state legislators including Tom Begich, Scott Kawasaki, Jesse Kiehl, Peter Micciche, Harriet Drummond, Sara Hannan, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, John Lincoln, Kelly Merrick, Sara Rasmusen and Chris Tuck signed a letter that expressed displeasure with the possible change.
“This proposed change in regulation by your office would do harm to small businesses across Alaska and conflict with the intent of the law as it was passed,” they wrote. “If there is a discrepancy in statute that needs clarification, then we implore AMCO to allow the Legislature to revise the statute through legislation during the 2020 regular session rather than disrupt local businesses.”
Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, did not sign that letter, but did send a letter expressing his concerns. So too did Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai.
“I believe it is imperative that we support the evolution of new trends and small business in Alaska, instead of obstructing an up and coming industry,” Knopp wrote.
Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association even shared opposition to the regulation.
CHARR’s members include liquor stores and bars, which have in the past expressed support for more regulation of breweries, distilleries and wineries who have taken advantage of current regulations to hold events that some feel costs bar’s and liquor stores business.
“I respectfully request that the Board take no action except to close this regulation project,” wrote Alaska CHARR President and CEO Sarah D. Oates. “In doing so, you would enable a working group of industry members – including both retailers and manufacturers – to formulate sensible language to be included in the omnibus bill regarding this matter.”
The panning wasn’t universal. Some did support the new definition or additional regulation.
“Distilleries and breweries were meant to be tasting rooms, without bar stools at the bar, comfortable seating, music, entertainment, etc.,” wrote Mark Erickson with the Lucky Lady Pub in Juneau. “Unfortunately, they have been bending these rules in their favor, and no one is doing anything about it. I suggest that if you want to run your distillery or brewery like a bar, you should purchase a Beverage Dispensary License at market price, if one is available. In Juneau the minimum starting price is $250,000+.”
Whether the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board decides to adopt the new definition or rework it next week, Barnaby said he’s hopeful state lawmakers will put the argument to rest during the next legislature session.
“Hopefully, it will be a non-issue after this session anyway,” Barnaby said.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.