Breweries Booming

Pints are served up at HooDoo Brewing Co. Thursday evening, November 16, 2017.

FAIRBANKS—A wide-ranging overhaul of the state's alcohol laws essentially died Thursday when its author withdrew it from committee following public outcry over a House amendment that would have cut brewery and distillery serving sizes by one-third.

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, referred to the amendment in Senate Bill 76 as "unfair and self-serving" in a news release Thursday.

"I introduced this bill because I agree with and admire its spirit of consensus," he said in a statement. "A primary goal during the formation of this bill was to protect the rights that Alaskan business owners have today. This amendment goes against all of that."

Micciche added that the use of the bill as a lever for smaller legislation is "antithetical to Alaskan values, small business and economic freedom."

"I will not allow a singular special interest group to hijack my legislation to the detriment of other Alaskan businesses because they are viewed as competition," he said.

The amendment cutting serving sizes in breweries and distilleries came out of the House Labor and Commerce Committee. Public criticism has focused on potential conflicts of interest within the committee and was pointed at Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who is a former member of the Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association and owned a bar in Kodiak for 25 years, and Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, the committee's vice chairman who owns The Blue Loon, a bar and nightclub in Ester.

The amendment aimed to cut brewery serving sizes from 36 ounces to 24 ounces a day and distillery serving sizes from 3 ounces to 2 ounces a day.

The death of this amendment is a sigh of relief for small alcohol businesses.

"I think it's great," said Rob Borland, owner of Ursa Major Distilling in Ester. "It was kind of a compromised bill anyway, and the last amendment screwed it over. I'd rather see it die this way than continue in the direction it was heading."

Borland said he hopes the bill can be renewed next year and continue without any special interest amendments.

Pat Levy, owner of Fairbanks Distilling Company, said the bill's death was bittersweet.

"I have mixed emotions, I don't know whether to say I'm happy or sad," Levy said. "Initially this was a good bill. It's a shame the amendments washed the whole thing out."

Levy said he was happy the serving size amendment will not become law.

"But it's really unfortunate that people with special interests had gotten ahold of it," he said. "Really, special interests is what killed the bill."

Bobby Wilken, owner of HooDoo Brewing Company in Fairbanks, also had mixed feelings.

"Of course we're very happy that the amendment didn't make it any further," Wilken said. "It would have been nice if the bill had gone through without the amendment, but I think what Micciche did was very important for our industry and it's definitely for the best. It's unfortunate that he had to do that but we appreciate that he did."

The effort to update the state's alcohol laws, contained in Title IV of the state statutes, was a collaboration across parties six years in the making.

"Title IV is a mess," Micciche said. "It’s a mess for the industry, the public, and the state that attempts to enforce it. I think one of the most powerful parts of this process, and one of the reasons we’ve made it this far, is that everyone who participated was able to look beyond their own self-interest and consider the big picture, and a system that is better for everyone than the one we have today."

The first version of the bill was introduced in 2015 but ran into similar issues from interest groups. The bill as a whole did not move forward but aspects were passed in Senate Bill 165 addressing the issues surrounding minors consuming alcohol.

Micciche said his plan to is to keep moving forward.

"SB 76 was never meant to be the last alcohol bill in the state of Alaska," he said. "It is a critical starting point from which tougher conversations can be based in separate, smaller and more focused pieces of legislation in the future."

A staff member to Micciche said the senator's intention is to re-introduce the bill in its pre-amendment form next year.

Contact staff writer Erin Granger at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.