News: CJ Exclusives

N.C. House passes ‘brunch bill,’ now moves to the Senate

Amendment banned direct-to-consumer sales from distilleries, but would allow alcohol sales at 10 a.m. Sundays and let distilleries sell five bottles per customer annually

Scott Maitland, owner of TOPO Distillery in Chapel Hill. (CJ file photo)
Scott Maitland, owner of TOPO Distillery in Chapel Hill. (CJ file photo)

North Carolina distillers could begin seeing a significant boost in sales as visitors as early as this coming weekend.

In a vote of 73-40, the N.C. House on Tuesday evening approved Senate Bill 155, 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.

The Senate will take up the omnibus bill before it heads to Gov. Roy Cooper, who could sign it before a busy July Fourth holiday. His signature makes it law.

The bill will again change. An amendment by Rep. Pat Hurley, R-Randolph, effectively removed a provision allowing distilleries to sell directly to consumers.

A critic of the bill throughout the process, she cited concern over underage drinking and an expanding access to alcohol. But North Carolina already ships wine directly to consumers and has for almost 15 years. Other fail-safe measures, such as presenting an ID and requiring an adult to sign for the package, are already in place.

“This bill is saturating our state and trying to saturate others with alcohol,” she said.

Many of the bill’s opponents oppose the bill on religious grounds, including Hurley.

Rep. James Boles, R-Moore, tried to remove the retail aspect — grocery stores, etc. — from the brunch portion of the bill allowing Sunday sales in restaurants to begin at 10 a.m.

Rep. John Bradford, R-Mecklenburg, countered.

“My faith hasn’t wavered because I can buy beer at 10:01 at Harris Teeter in Charlotte.”

Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, added that the 10 a.m. sales provision would not be automatic. The governing body of the city or town involved would have to authorize Sunday morning sales before they could take place.

Boles’ amendment failed.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, who has helped shepherd the bill through the House, said the current Alcoholic Beverage Control code is a mess and lawmakers are working to fix it — one piece at a time.

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

Senate Bill 155, now a Proposed Committee Substitute, combines the Senate bill with an earlier measure from the House specific to breweries and wineries.

S.B. 155, which 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.

Scott Maitland founded the popular Top of the Hill Restaurant in Chapel Hill. He’s also proprietor of the TOPO distillery just down the street and president of the N.C. Distillers Association.

He and his fellow restaurateurs and distillers stand to benefit on several fronts.

A strong proponent of the bill who has lobbied for its passage, Maitland points to potential for North Carolina in terms of economic growth and the chance to play without a handicap against neighboring states, such as Virginia and Tennessee.

“When we look at it from a state economic impact, it’s not simply limited only to the alcohol sold during those two hours,” he told Carolina Journal. “It’s really about the fact that Sunday brunch — which is historically the third- or fourth-biggest selling time period [for restaurants] across the country — suddenly becomes a player in North Carolina.

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.

The bill isn’t only about alcohol, Bradford said Tuesday. Rather, it’s about jobs and the economy. About entrepreneurship and innovation.

“Alcohol’s not always about drinking,” he said. “Sometimes it’s about the craft.”