Alcohol board delays decision on ‘fun’ in distilleries and breweries because it can’t agree what ‘fun’ is

After the state went after distilleries for serving cocktails in their tasting rooms, distilleries responded with calls to update the law.

The Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board decided to postpone action on allowing what activities are and aren’t allowed in distilleries and breweries during its Monday board meeting because it ultimately couldn’t settle on a clear definition of entertainment.

In its latest efforts to tighten regulations on distilleries and breweries—it’s already cracked down on mixed drinks offered by distilleries—the board is considering ending any sort of extracurricular activities—like yoga classes, yodeling competitions and parties—that have become popular draws to the manufacturer’s’ tasting rooms.

In a controversial memo last week, AMCO Director Erika McConnell said all activities outside of tasting and buying alcohol appear to be outside the law, including “Festivals, parties, and fundraisers, including food and ‘fun'” and even selling local arts and crafts.

The memo, which threatens to dramatically rewrite how distilleries and breweries have been operating for the last few years, drew considerable backlash and public testimony was unilaterally against tightening the regulations.

However, most of the testifiers focused on the benefits of the activities to the community and not whether McConnell’s interpretation of the law was wrong, which was all the board members seemed to be weighing.

McConnell’s memo was likely to get the approval from the board until board member Ellen Ganley, who chaired the portion of the meeting regarding distilleries because Board Chair Bob Klein recused because he owns Anchorage Distillery, pumped the brakes.

The two other present members, Robert Evans and Thomas Manning, were ready to accept the director’s memo, but Ganley said it would be better to wait, get the input from public safety member Rex Leath and get a clearer definition of the law.

“The point is none of these things that are listed in the memo are directly referred to in the statute,” she said. “That’s our job as the board to discuss it and determine what’s in and what’s out.”

The law specifically forbids the following: “live entertainment, televisions, pool tables, dart games, dancing, electronic or other games, game tables, or other recreational or gaming opportunities on the premises where the consumption occurs.”

It’s under that “live entertainment” that AMCO argues activities like yoga classes, parties, yodeling and art sales should be banned.

“We’d have a list a million items,” said Manning, who argued in favor of a strict and limited interpretation of the law. “It’s what they should be and not what they could be.”

“We could do a better job of defining entertainment,” Ganley replied.

If approved, the memorandum put forward by McConnell envisions a pretty austere interaction between customers and manufacturer, where the sole purpose of the tasting room is for customers to sample the product, decide to buy it and leave.

“The license type does not suggest that members of the public should be encouraged to linger through food service and events, and the prohibition on entertainment supports that interpretation,” she wrote.

The issue will be taken up at the board’s next meeting in January.

There’s been talk of a legislative fix to clearly define what’s allowed at distilleries and breweries, even though legislators who sponsored the distillery legislation have since said that distilleries are operating as intended when they passed the law.

Such an effort would likely face stiff opposition from the irascible interest group the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, which has since said it wouldn’t have supported the tasting room legislation if it had known it would’ve led to the current activities.

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3 Comments on "Alcohol board delays decision on ‘fun’ in distilleries and breweries because it can’t agree what ‘fun’ is"

  1. The ABC does not just start investigating a business on a whim or out of the sky blue. They claim they don’t have the man power to adequately investigate underage drinking anymore. I hazard to guess that a few bar owners complained to the ABC that tasting rooms were not following the letter of the law even though what the ABC was accusing the tasting rooms of doing was not spelled out in the original license applications of what a tasting room could do or not do. In other words the ABC was making a judgement call that I believe was based on the bar owners perception that they were losing business to the tasting
    rooms. Nothing else makes any logical sense. So in essence the ABC is attacking new small businesses for competition. There is no safety issue. The cops have not been called out to these establishments. Since when has it been against the law to compete with another business which by the way is like comparing apples and pineapples as far as how different a tasting room is and a bar.

  2. Stoutly Beermenow | November 14, 2017 at 10:36 am | Reply

    Pretty sure those establishments licensed as tasting rooms are only open until 8pm latest. So CHAR stepping on it’s own feet opposing this. Many folks visit a tasting room w/ “fun” as the beginning of a night out, not the end. For others it’s a far healthier / wholesome environment than the bar scene. I like paying the people who make my booze, not some multinational corporation from Belgium. What organization represents the patrons, you know, the ones spending the $$$ at these places? Is it a legislative solution you seek? Are you sure you want to kick that hornet nest? CHAR should about face and support the growing local business community on this, and appreciate the benefits to their members.

  3. Scott Christiansen | March 20, 2018 at 11:11 am | Reply

    The ABCB has a history of being weighted in favor of existing licensees. It’s been working with the assistance of local elected officials, to stifle creative commerce and Alaska culture, for decades.

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