News: Quick Takes

Bill to loosen rules on distilleries takes another step forward

Senate Bill 155 has taken another step forward and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.

The Senate Committee on Commerce and Insurance approved it Thursday.

Committee members spent about 30 minutes debating two proposed amendments, concerning auctioning off antique spirits and a move to ensure local distilleries get a fair chance at offering tastings at ABC stores.

Senator Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, ultimately pulled both amendments.

The bill is one of two that aims to loosen laws on North Carolina distilleries.

S.B. 155 would increase purchase limits from one bottle to five bottles per customer. It would allow the creation of a special permit letting distilleries offer free tastings at events, such as trade shows, conventions, street festivals and, following the lead of other states, state ABC stores. Distillers could pour no more than 1.5 ounces in total per customer.

The state House filed a companion bill, House Bill 460, on March 23.

Another provision in the bill would allow restaurants to sell alcohol starting at 10 a.m. Sunday, according to local rules. Other primary sponsors of S.B. 155 are Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake; and Sen. Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston. The bill was referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate.

“There’s so many good things in [S.B. 155]. The idea that’s gone to the next level is great,” said Scott Maitland, founder of Top of the Hill Distillery in Chapel Hill, which makes its line of spirits from organic soft red winter wheat from a farm in Scotland Neck.

Maitland is also president of the Distillers Association of North Carolina.

The bill, he said, includes provisions that directly impact distilleries, and help them indirectly, too.

“The ‘brunch bill,’ by definition, is going to mean more opportunities. I think it’s a positive statement, and long overdue. We’ve had a two-year experiment with distillery sales, and by all accounts only positive things have happened. We’re excited about where we stand.”