FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office could possibly crack down on “fun” and other activities at breweries and distilleries on Monday when it looks to clarify what extracurricular activities can be held at businesses with an alcohol manufacturing license.
Alcohol Control Office Director Erika McConnell sent a memo to members of the control board asking for clarification on the interpretation and intent of a manufacturer’s license and the parameters surrounding so-called “extracurricular” activities and events.
Painting events, poetry readings, festivals, parties, fundraisers, music, food and even “fun” were listed on the memo as some of the activities that need clarification.
McConnell is also seeking clarification on what hours activities can be held at these manufacturing facilities.
“The license type does not suggest that members of the public should be encouraged to linger through food service events, and the prohibition of entertainment supports that interpretation,” McConnell’s memo states. “Festivals, parties, painting parties, yodeling competitions, poetry readings and the like appear to be entertainment and thus prohibited.”
A couple local distillery owners weighed in on McConnell’s memo; feelings varied. Ursa Major Distillery Owner Rob Borland said it’s as if McConnell declared war on distillery owners. On Thursday, he hosted a painting event at his Ester distillery.
“They sent me a notice. They wanted me to cancel it,” Borland said Friday. “They haven’t even held this board meeting yet. This new director seems to have it out for us. She tries to limit us nonstop. We jump through hoops. It’s very frustrating. It affects all tasting rooms. To me, it’s overreach.”
Borland said he helped write House Bill 309 which allowed the distillery tasting rooms to open, and said entertainment refers to things such as live music and television.
“It’s her view of what a tasting room should be. She is reinterpreting the statute,” Borland said. “I helped write that statute so I was a little offended when she told me I misinterpreted it. Now she tells us we can’t do that. I can’t believe she put ‘fun’ in the memo. She wants to limit ‘fun’. Am I not supposed to not let anyone smile when they come in here? I believe it’s pushback from other bars and they feel we’re taking their customers.”
Toivo Lowick, owner of Hoarfrost Distilling, had a less combative response. Although he wants some clarification, he finds some points of the memo alarming.
“I like the idea of clarifying what we can and can’t do, but I’m worried the it will be one sided against the distilleries and we’ll get hammered on,” Lowick said.
Lowick said the statute is specific about no games such as darts and pool, but it is less clear on activities such as dancing. Dance lessons and practices are held at Hoarfrost from time to time, but he wonders if social dancing is acceptable.
Lowick said the phrase, “The license type does not suggest that members of the public should be encouraged to linger” is “a very sinister and troubling sentence.”
“I think that is just a way to project what they want out of language that is not there,” Lowick said. “The language does not mention these activities. It certainly doesn’t ban it.”
Fairbanks Distilling Owner Patrick Levy said he isn’t so concerned about the memo.
“We don’t do yodeling competitions. We’re more just about mixed drinks. We’re into making classic drinks that showcase our product,” Levy said. “We understand there isn’t supposed to be entertainment.”
But he isn’t happy with the direction McConnell has taken. McConnell tried cracking down on mixed drinks at distilleries in September, but she has since backed off and the issue is at a stalemate. With a grand opening for a larger tasting room set for Dec. 1 at Fairbanks Distilling, Levy said he hopes the legislature will pressure the Alcohol Control Board to back distillers’ right to sell mixed drinks.
Borland said he sees no reason why people cannot enjoy distillers’ or brewers’ products during an activity.
“I think it’s safer if they sip on their cocktail and stay a while rather than taking a shot and jumping back in their car,” Borland said. “We’re still following the law. We’re holding people to the three ounce limit.”
Hoodoo Brewing owner Bobby Wilken did not return a phone call. Popular activities such as yodeling competitions and yoga that are held at hisFairbanks brewery are listed on the memo.
Contact staff writer Kevin Baird at 459-7575.
Examples of extracurricular activities at question in the Alcohol Control Board’s memo:
• Renting out the facility for weddings, parties and similar events.
• Festivals, parties and fundraisers including food and fun and, at times, music.
• Allowing tours after permitted business hours.
• Hosting “alcohol inks and brews” — a painting party with alcohol.
• Stein holding and yodeling competitions.
• Yoga class prior to opening for normal operations — the fee for the yoga includes a drink after the premises opens to the public.
• Poetry readings and signings.
• Sales of local crafts on the premises.