Distilleries

Bottles of gin on display in the tasting room at Ursa Major Distilling on the Parks Highway in Ester Friday afternoon, September 15, 2017. Eric Engman/News-Miner

For the second time in as many years, the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has introduced proposed regulation changes that stand to greatly change the way brewery and distillery tasting rooms are allowed to operate in the state of Alaska.

The board released the regulation proposal in a Monday public notice. Proposed changes include prohibiting breweries and distilleries from allowing festivals, games and competitions, classes, public parties, presentations or performances and other social gatherings advertised to the general public, according to a regulation draft released by the board.

To Bobby Wilken, owner of HooDoo Brewing Co., the possible regulations don’t make any sense. 

“It’s pretty ridiculous what they’re trying to do, really just because these business are seeing some success and the board is basically trying to regulate that success for really no purpose,” Wilken said. “There’s no public health benefit from what they’re proposing, there’s no real benefit to anyone.”

Whatever happens, HooDoo will roll with the punches and remain a spot for local Fairbanks residents to come enjoy a pint, Wilken said, but he does question the motive behind the possible regulation changes. 

“There are some people out there that don’t like the craft producers, there are some people that have caused this to happen. The right people are lobbying behind this and causing the shift,” Wilken said, noting that the ‘bar scene’ in Fairbanks has not changed in years. “Instead of driving money back into their business and improving the quality of the product and experience they provide, they’re trying to hinder our businesses by fighting with laws and regulations.” 

Wilken said he had heard of the possible changes a few months ago and was disappointed it has come this far. 

“When we opened in 2012, one of our driving forces behind wanting to open this brewery is that there was nowhere in Fairbanks to have a beer that I wanted to go to,” Wilken said. 

Wilken is not the only brewer to feel that way. Carey Fristoe, one of three co-owners of the up-and-coming brewery Black Spruce Brewing Co., said the ambiguity in the list of limited activities is concerning. 

“Does that mean we can’t post new beer releases? I mean that’s the whole point of a tasting room and how we bring our customers in,” Fristoe said. “Are we not allowed to do tours? Someone could argue that’s a presentation of sorts. I just think it doesn’t really clarify the ambiguity of entertainment which is what they’re to do with this. I think it creates more hurdles for us and more unknowns as far as what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. It’s definitely pretty extreme.”

Fristoe owns Black Spruce Brewing Co. along with Jake Hovenden and Stephanie Haskins.

Black Spruce Brewing Co. is one of many local tasting rooms that work in conjunction with community members to host art shows and small gatherings like candidate fundraisers.

Ursa Major Distilling Co. owner Rob Borland was outraged at the proposed changes. 

“I don’t understand why they’re trying do this to us again,” Borland said. “It wouldn’t even allow First Fridays anymore, I don’t understand why they’re doing it besides somebody in the background who’s a bar owner. That’s kind of the gist of what’s been coming down the pike since Erika (McConnell) took over.” 

State law currently prohibits onsite live entertainment, TVs, pool tables, darts, dancing, video games, game tables or “other recreational or gaming opportunities,” according to current ABC Board regulations.

Now, the new change holds the possibility of having a huge impact of businesses like Borland’s. 

“It regulates how we can advertise, what kind of information we can put out there, it’s just ridiculous,” Borland said. “It’s clear that some of the powers that be want us to only be manufacturers and they think we’re competing with the bar scene by being a tasting room. We sell a handful of cocktails, for a handful of hours for only a handful of days of the week. It’s a pretty narrowminded way of looking at it all.”

The changes have been proposed in order to “better reflect the legislative intent that these licenses are manufacturers, not retailers,” according to Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office Director Erika McConnell.

Public input on the proposed changes can be emailed to amco.regs@alaska.gov or sent to the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office at 550 West Seventh Ave., Suite 1600, Anchorage AK 99501.

Public comment will be accepted up until 4:30 p.m. Oct. 4.

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

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