Tuesday, March 21, 2023

New bill could loosen alcohol sale restrictions at craft distilleries, allow bars

North Carolina's current alcohol laws require buying and selling alcohol through the state's ABC stores, and prohibit options like distilleries operating bars or tasting rooms.

If approved, the new bill would dramatically change how liquor sales operate in the state when it comes to craft distilleries (Port City Daily/File)

RALEIGH — A new bill circulating the North Carolina General Assembly could loosen restrictions on the sale of alcoholic beverages for craft distilleries much like current laws regulating craft breweries.

Local representative Holly Grange is a sponsor of the bill entitled the Distiller Regulatory Reform Bill. While the Cape Fear region is currently lacking in craft distilleries, the concept is growing across the state and there are plans for several distillers in the area.

North Carolina is one of a handful of states that regulates the sale of alcohol through a state-run monopoly which makes the sale and distribution an often-difficult process.

If approved, as the bill currently reads, distilleries would have a good amount of leeway when it comes to how they operate and sales permitted.

It would allow distilleries to sell both malt beverages and unfortified wines, allow distilleries to sell their products directly to establishments that serve their liquor and sell bottles to out-of-state visitors.

Because of the state-controlled ABC, any in-state retail establishment that wants to serve alcohol must purchase the bottles from a state-run store. If approved, this bill would allow N.C. distillers the chance to sell their products directly to their customers.

According to the Ashville Citizen-Times, Chuck McGrady, another state representative likens the move to how the state deals with craft beer breweries.

“I think it’s comparable to what we did with craft brewing,” McGrady said March 21, days after House and Senate versions of the bill were filed. “We provided exceptions to them to how they want to distribute. The idea is they would distribute in their own towns or cities.”

One of the more significant changes the bill would have would be the establishment of bars and allow them to maintain ABC permits. Current state law requires liquor sales to be done at restaurants or so-called private clubs. This is why patrons to establishments in Downtown Wilmington for example, have to sign up to become a “member” — typically paying a nominal membership fee.

According to the bill, the definition of a bar would be “An establishment substantially engaged in the business of serving alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises. To qualify as a bar, an establishment’s gross receipts from alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises shall be not less than seventy-five percent (75%) of the establishment’s total gross receipts.”

Representative Grange did not respond to questions about her support of the bill by the time of publication.

Michael Praats can be reached at Michael.P@Localvoicemedia.com

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