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Cheers, N.C.: Governor signs bill easing rules on distilleries into law

Cheers, North Carolina.

North Carolina distillers and restaurateurs on Friday evening were toasting Senate Bill 155, which Gov. Roy Cooper has signed into law.

Distillers are relieved as much as they are happy. It’s a boon for North Carolina tourism and agriculture.

“I am truly elated to hear Governor Cooper has signed S.B. 155 into law,” says George Smith of Copper Barrel Distillery in North Wilkesboro. “My sincerest thanks to my fellow Distillers Association members who helped make this happen.”

Said Leanne Powell of Southern Grace Distilleries in Mount Pleasant: “We want to thank Governor Cooper for signing this bill and the members of both parties who worked to craft this common sense legislation that will help small businesses like Southern Grace Distilleries expand and continue to manufacture quality made-in-the-U.S.A. products right here in NC.”

The N.C. Distillers Association has lobbied for years to ease the Prohibition-era rules on distilleries. In 2015, Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a measure allowing distilleries to sell each customer one bottle every 365 days. Now, distillers can sell five bottles.

The law allows restaurants to begin selling alcohol Sunday at 10 a.m., as opposed to noon. The early sales are contingent on local approval. North Carolina is one of a handful of states that restricts liquor sales on Sunday mornings.

It allows for the sale of antique or rare spirits in special auction, after auctioneers obtain a $750 permit.

The measure provides a means to obtain a special event permit, which would cost $200 and allow distillers to offer tastings of their products — 0.25 ounce per product not to exceed an ounce — during events and gatherings such as trade shows and festivals, contingent on local approval.

A provision allowing grocery stores to begin selling beer and wine at 10 a.m. had been removed from the bill, but lawmakers approved an amendment returning it. But an amendment prohibiting sales from distillers directly consumers was approved.

Lawmakers also removed a provision from S.B. 155 that limited the number of distillers who could take part in a particular event.

For brewers, the measure allows the sale of “crowlers,” cans of beer sealed on site. The earlier version of the bill gave the state ABC board 60 days to complete rules governing sale of crowlers. That was pushed back to 120 days.

The new law eases the rules for home brewers and vintners, who can share but not sell their products at organized events, such as competitions. It also gives beer taprooms the option to sell liquor and mixed drinks, with the required and relevant permits, and would allow farm brewers in dry counties to sell their beer; again, pending local approval of the city or county jurisdiction.

“We are thrilled about the progress our industry took today,” said Andrew Norman of Greensboro Distilling Co. in Greensboro. “The passing of this bill will not only be an immediate help to our business, it will have a positive financial impact for our state, and it creates a better experience for our customers. Thank you to everyone that had a hand in passing this bill and we are excited to be able to share our spirits with more people than ever.”