Opinion: Daily Journal

Bill could give distilleries shot they need to become real economic players in N.C.

Senate Bill 155 would, among many other things, allow restaurants to sell alcohol before noon on Sundays.

That’s good news for restaurants, but only those open for Sunday brunch and only those with a permit to sell alcohol.

Many media outlets reporting about the bill have grabbed onto this provision, although why isn’t exactly clear. The summary of the “brunch bill” or “bloody Mary bill” focuses on this particular aspect, so maybe some reporters have failed to read it all the way through. Or even beyond the first page.

The move would help restaurants and allow people who wish to imbibe to order that Bellini or that screwdriver, or that beer or glass of wine.

It should be a commonsense rule anyway, and the bill should go on to allow beer and wine sales in grocery stores before noon on Sunday.

Unfortunately, the other stories have downplayed, for the most part, provisions that could light a fire under one of the state’s most promising homegrown industries: legal local distilleries.

It’s a system of state control, a cacophonous and out-of-tune cadre including the ABC system, lawmakers and distributors that largely stifles entrepreneurship.

Restaurants would benefit should this bill become law, but so would big distillers such as Beam Suntory, Diageo and Campari.

So would the smaller operations that dot the state. Current law lets them sell only one bottle per year at the distillery to people who take tours. S.B. 155 would allow sales of five bottles per person. It may not sound like much, but to the owners of these local operations, it’s potentially a huge deal.

It would allow people such as Jordan Keiper of The Tavern in Old Salem, in Winston-Salem, to showcase North Carolina spirits. His drink menu highlights the state’s great spirits, and he rarely misses a chance to promote them. He hosts a regular podcast, “Sipping NC: The Art of the Drink,” featuring North Carolina distillers and their rums, whiskeys, gins, liqueurs and vodkas.

Keiper is proud to feature Tar Heel brands, including the tantalizing sweetness of Kill Devil Rum from Outer Banks Distilling and the beautiful, oaky bite of Great Wagon Road’s Rua.

North Carolina was once a premiere state for liquor, and it will be again, he says.

People should know that, and Keiper’s doing his darned best to tell them, showcasing state brands to people from all over the country and, for that matter, the world.

Sort of an ode to North Carolina’s talented distillers and exceptional products.

Old Salem, he says, was home to one of the state’s first distilleries, of which there were many. The podcast, a means of teaching people about North Carolina spirits, came in part because Keiper was angered and frustrated in the way the state ABC was promoting — or failing to promote — N.C spirits. The state, he says, even tried to temper his enthusiasm, asking him to slow it down a bit.

“Why would I slow down in promoting our state?”

The podcast, he says, helps teach people about the process.

“To let distillers tell their story.”

Teaching people about the people who make the spirits.

To let people know that Greensboro Distilling Co.’s Tiny Cat vodka is much better than the more expensive and ubiquitous Grey Goose . That Broadslab’s Carolina Coast Silver Rum outshines all of the mass-market brands.

S.B. 155 also clears the way for distillers to offer tastings at ABC stores, festivals and other events. That’s significant, says Keiper. To place things in perspective, he says, state laws handcuff distilleries in relation to rules for breweries and wineries, which in their own way too are limiting and arcane.

The law would free up at least one metaphorical arm, he says.

“There’s really no chance for distillers to get product in people’s hands. But to taste and show why I should buy (N.C.) products is really going to be a difference maker.”

We should learn from our neighbors, such as Virginia and South Carolina, which allow liquor stores to offer tastings.

S.B. 155 is a positive step toward leveling the field for North Carolina distillers, and so is a measure to “lift the cap” on outdated rules constraining Tar Heel breweries.

Since Prohibition, Kentucky — not much unlike North Carolina — inhibited the sale and consumption of liquor throughout the mostly dry state.

Bourbon, by the way, rules in the Bluegrass State, and it has for decades. It was a perplexing irony, but things began to change in the new millennium, as laws loosened to allow some businesses to sell liquor by the drink. The state’s bourbon distilleries were eventually allowed to offer tastings and limited sales. Now, these distilleries can sell mixed drinks, which, along with the popular Kentucky Bourbon Trail, is a boon for tourism.

Statewide, the Lexington Herald Leader reports, drunk-driving arrests in Kentucky have fallen as legal alcohol sales have spread, according to figures compiled by the Kentucky State Police.

In Tennessee, another neighbor to the west, moonshine peddlers pass out candy-flavored shots to thirsty tourists throughout the summer. It’s mostly swill, to be quite honest, but people line up nonetheless.

Think, then, about the potential for North Carolina distillers, who are selling tradition and legacy as well as some of the cleanest, tastiest, and most genuine spirits in the world. Simply put, this bill could determine whether the distilleries are mere neighborhood novelties or real economic players traversing state lines.

Carolina Journal Managing Editor John Trump is the author of Still and Barrel: Craft Spirits in the Old North State (Blair, 2017).



  • caesar

    The state of NC has no business telling distilleries how/when/and to who they have to sell their product. Another government intrusion into business!

    • ProudlyUnaffiliated

      Exactly. The best thing is to terminate all these ridiculous laws and rules. And get the state out of selling and piling on more taxes on alcoholic beverages while you are at it. We, the people, can take care of ourselves.

  • HoseManNC

    The bill should also include the elimination of the monopoly held by the ABC stores and open up the sale of liquor to private enterprise. The state monopoly only discourages competition and encourages higher prices, poor customer service and limited inventory. That is why I purchase most of my spirits across the border in SC. Not only are the prices better but the selection is huge. I am fortunate that my job includes travel in SC. My favorite haunts are Frugal McDougal just across the line in Fort Mill, Green’s in Columbia and Total Wine in Charleston. Frugal McDougal has a large selection of NC spirits.