Art shows, fundraisers and other events would stop happening at breweries and distilleries if the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board adopts a divisive regulation change that’s being considered.
State statute currently outlaws manufacturing licensees, such as Amalga Distillery or Devil’s Club Brewing Company in downtown Juneau, from allowing onsite live entertainment, TVs, pool tables, darts, dancing, video games, game table or “other recreational or gaming opportunities.”
A possible change announced on Monday, which has advocates and detractors in the capital city, would define that last phrase as specifically being festivals, games and competitions, classes, public parties, presentations or performances and other social gatherings advertised to the general public.
“This is too far,” said Evan Wood, co-owner of Devil’s Club Brewing Co., in an interview. “We’ve gone way over the line.”
The proposed change, which is open to public comment through 4:30 p.m. Oct. 4, came to be in an effort to “better reflect the legislative intent that these licenses are manufacturers, not retailers,” according to a memorandum from Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office Director Erika McConnell. A draft of the regulations was discussed at a June 2018 board meeting, and the change being considered is a revised proposal.
Wood recalled disliking the proposed changes last year, and he’s still opposed to cutting informational events, First Friday art galleries and fundraisers from the brewery’s calendar.
“Those are the things I’m worried about for the community,” Wood said. “The reason we started this, and it was written into our business plan, is we wanted to create a new social gathering place for the community that we grew up in, and that would clearly just cease to happen.”
Brandon Howard, co-founder of Amalga Distillery, said in an interview that just in the past year the downtown tasting room has been used to raise funds for hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico and friends in need of support during a health crisis.
“They’re trying to close this niche that we’ve filled that no one else has filled,” Howard said.
Community involvement aside, it would also likely reduce the amount of money manufacturers could make on events that aren’t yet specifically banned.
“From a business perspective it’s terrifying as well,” Wood said.
Both Wood and Howard also expressed concerns the regulation infringes on the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to assembly and free speech.
Lee Ellis, President for the Brewers Guild of Alaska, told the Empire that guild members will voice their displeasure during the public comment period and encourage their customers to do the same.
“We are absolutely opposed to it,” Ellis said.
However, that’s not a universal position.
There’s a divide between manufacturers and bar and liquor store owners that’s similar to the schism that formed in September 2017 when the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board decided distilleries could not legally serve cocktails.
Jared Curé, owner of The Narrows Bar, on Tuesday downplayed the severity of the change and generally sees it as positive.
“It’s just providing clarification for things that have already been happening for a long time,” Curé said.
He said the gray area that exists now impacts bar owners since tasting rooms can effectively offer a similar experience.
“Every single one of us have been affected by the changes in the rules and interpretations as they’ve gone through,” Curé said.
He said the definition change would likely mean an end to the things Howard and Wood want to keep going, but Curé said events at manufacturers tend to turn those spaces into something state statute intended to prevent.
Curé said in his opinion, under state statute manufacturers aren’t supposed to draw a sizable portion of revenue from events or selling beverages to individuals.
“I fundamentally disagree with this new business plan,” Curé said. “The intent (of the law) was very clear there.”
Paul Thomas, Board Chair for the trade group Alaska Cabaret, Hotel Restaurant and Retailers Association, said CHARR doesn’t have a formal position on the definition change yet.
“We’ll look into it,” he said.
Thomas was willing to share his tentative opinion as owner of Alaska Cache Liquor.
“I haven’t had a chance to get into the specifics,” Thomas said. “I know there’s some clarification, and that could be good for everyone in the industry.”
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.