News: Quick Takes

Lawmakers serve Cooper bill loosening rules on distilleries, restaurants

Should Gov. Roy Cooper agree with the legislature and quickly sign Senate Bill 155, North Carolina distillers — and possibly restaurateurs — will see a significant boost in sales as visitors as early as this coming weekend.

The N.C. Senate, in a marathon session Wednesday night that included some 80 bills, approved the so-called “brunch bill,” 37-9, without debate.

Distillers hope the governor signs the omnibus bill quickly, in time for the long holiday weekend.

“Senate Bill 155 offers substantial opportunity for our family owned distillery and drivers of tourism throughout our state,” said Gentry Lassiter of Lassiter Distilling Co. in Knightdale. “We are thrilled at how our legislators worked together to pass this important bill, and we’re very hopeful Governor Cooper will sign it before the holiday weekend.”

The House on Tuesday approved the bill, clearing the way for N.C. craft distillers to sell five bottles to customers each year, instead of the current one, and — with local approval — allows restaurants and retail outlets to begin selling alcohol Sunday at 10 a.m., as opposed to noon.

An amendment by Rep. Pat Hurley, R-Randolph, on Tuesday effectively removed a provision allowing distilleries to sell directly to consumers. But the Senate kept bill, now a proposed committee substitute, otherwise remained intact.

North Carolina is one of a handful of states that restricts liquor sales on Sunday mornings.

The bill combines the Senate bill with an earlier measure from the House specific to breweries and wineries.

The measure first cleared the Senate on June 1, allows distilleries to sell five bottles of spirits per customer per year; the current law allows people to buy one bottle every 365 days.

The bill 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.

Lawmakers 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,” basically 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. Monday, the committee pushed that back to 120 days.

Senate Bill 155 eases the rules for home brewers and vintners, who can share but not sell their products at organized events, such as competitions. The bill 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.