Currently, craft distilleries in North Carolina face much harsher regulations than the state’s craft breweries. The North Carolina General Assembly is looking to modernize the state's alcohol laws.
One bill looking to change the regulations is HB 971, titled Modern Licensure Model for Alcohol Control, which is being read this week. The bill hopes to privatize both retail liquor sales and wholesale distributions, eliminate local Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) boards and stores, and simplify the process by which retailers receive permits to sell alcohol.
One of the house bill’s sponsors Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, released a statement Wednesday, in which he said he believes it’s time North Carolina updates its alcohol legislation.
“It’s about time to turn the page on this antiquated, inefficient system,” McGrady said in the release. “I think our citizens and businesses are more than ready to be treated like we live in the 21st century.”
N.C. Senate Bill 290, called the ABC Regulatory Reform Bill, passed on July 16. The bill would allow distillers, who manufacture liquor, to play by rules similar to their beer and wine counterparts. It would make it easier for distillers to get their beverages in bars and restaurants by removing some of the strict ABC system regulations in the state.
Distillers would also be able to serve cocktails to their customers and sell larger numbers of their products on-site. The bill removes some regulations, making it easier for distilleries to obtain permits to sell malt and mixed beverages.
Currently, distillers can only offer a quarter-ounce sample of their product to customers touring their facility and are unable to serve cocktails highlighting their product. Customers can only buy five bottles per year at a distillery.
The N.C. Senate bill’s passing is having an immediate impact in Durham as a distillery there has already announced plans to open a cocktail bar to feature its gins.Durham Distillery announced the day after the bill was passed that Corpse Reviver, a craft cocktail bar, will be coming to in early 2020.
Co-owner Melissa Katrincic said she and her husband have been planning a cocktail bar since the beginning of 2019. At the time, they planned for it to be a separate business, since North Carolina law prohibited distilleries from selling craft cocktails. When they learned S.B. 290 would allow distilleries to showcase their liquors in cocktails, Katrincic said they followed it closely, hoping they’d be able to move forward with their plans by having the cocktail bar be part of the distillery.
“The bill passing is huge, there’s no other way for us to say it,” Katrincic said. “It’s really about turning the distillery into a destination and experience, instead of (being) so focused on the tours and the straight-pour tastings, we can now have people really try our products in the cocktails we intend them for. It allows for a lot more creativity and a better experience overall.”
Katrincic said she’s excited that distilleries now have the opportunity to offer the experience that the craft breweries have been able to for years. Durham Distillery manufactures gin, a liquor that Katrincic said people aren’t used to drinking straight—it's meant to be enjoyed in a cocktail.
The bill received bipartisan support in the senate, with 16 republicans and 15 democrats voting in favor of the bill during the July 16 session.
The bill’s primary sponsors are Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, Guilford; Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, and Sen. Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston.
Sen. Valerie Foushee, D-Chatham, Orange, cast one of the 31 votes in favor of the bill.
The North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association issued a statement on July 17 supporting the bill’s passing.
“S.B. 290 brings much-needed reform to our state’s outdated and inefficient Alcohol Beverage Control laws, creating greater convenience and choice for North Carolina’s businesses and consumers," Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the NCRLA, said in the statement. "While we believe there is still much work left to be done, we celebrate this impactful milestone and look forward to continuing the discussion on modernizing the state’s ABC system."
On the opposing side, one democrat and nine republicans voted against the legislation. Most pushback toward this legislation comes from conservative religious groups such as the Christian Action League of North Carolina that are against the privatization of North Carolina's ABC system.
If signed into law, these bills could prove to be significant milestones for the ways alcohol is sold and consumed in North Carolina.
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