Starting today Alaska’s distilleries can once again—with the blessing of the state and its regulators—serve cocktails in their tasting rooms.
Today is the effective date of Senate Bill 45—a construction contracting bill that picked up a last-minute fix clarifying that, yes, distilleries can mix their spirits into cocktails—bringing an end to one of the Legislature’s more the hangover-inducing battles in recent memory.
The fight pitted upstart distillery industry against the established bar industry in a back-and-forth that ultimately put a larger rewrite of the state’s alcohol laws on ice for the second session in a row.
The new, narrow law specifically allows distilleries to “combine the distillery’s product … with other ingredients, including mixers, liquids, or garnishes, that are not alcoholic beverages.”
While plenty of distilleries have ignored the state’s crackdown on cocktails, some are holding celebrations of the law like the Fairbanks-based Hoarfrost Distilling.
“We at Hoarfrost Distilling want to thank everyone who helped us by making phone calls, writing letters and signing petitions,” wrote Hoarfrost Distilling owner Toivo Luick on Facebook about the event. “Our right to mix cocktails at the distillery was signed into law on 13 July and goes into effect this week.”
Why was this even a thing?
Distilleries were granted the ability to open tasting rooms in 2014 through legislation authored by Rep. Chris Tuck. Several distilleries opened throughout the state, serving cocktails in their tasting rooms at a maximum of two drinks with limited hours, and before long many became popular hangouts (again, albeit during those limited hours).
That popularity came bite distilleries when bar owners and their industry group, CHARR, cried foul to the state’s regulators, arguing that distilleries were acting like exactly bars (again, with drink limits and limited hours). The regulators promptly put the kibosh on the activity (though the final, official ban was tied up thanks to an improperly noticed meeting).
Distilleries were also allowed to make cocktails as long as everything, including the mixers down to the soda water, were made on site.
The fight reached the Legislature this year, as Tuck sought to find a fix for what he said was always intended (there’s a photo from the 2014 bill signing where Tuck’s holding a jar of orange juice).
That fix was eventually set to be included in an larger rewrite of the state’s alcohol laws, which proved to be a near-fatal decision.
CHARR, flexing its muscles, eventually relented on cocktails but pushed for stricter limits on distilleries and, apparently just for fun, breweries that would have cut the maximum serving size dramatically and also required both distilleries and breweries to sell a majority of their product through wholesalers after a few years in business. Breweries said the wholesaler requirements would be a death knell for everyone but the very biggest of Alaska’s breweries.
It was a bridge too far for Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, who had been carrying the larger alcohol rewrite and he pulled the plug, calling the changes “unfair and self-serving.” Oh, right, that’s because the legislators behind the changes, Reps. Louise Stutes and Adam Wool, also happened to be involved in the bar industry. Wool owns a bar and Stutes used to own one.
But it was Wool who ultimately came through for the distilleries, offering the amendment that added the cocktail fix to a bill about construction contractors.
Now let’s all go have a drink.