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

A bipartisan group of state legislators sent a letter to the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board on Monday opposing proposed regulation changes that would further limit activities at breweries, distilleries and wineries around the state. 

“Alaska’s brewers and distillers have been diligently following the law as they understand it. This proposed change in regulation by your office would do harm to small businesses across Alaska and conflict with the intent of the law as it was passed,” the letter reads. 

The letter outlines the importance of breweries and distilleries as a burgeoning section of Alaska’s economy.

“If AMCO implements these regulations ahead of the regular legislative session in January, it would damage the brewing and distilling industry,” the letter reads. “Brewers and distillers are a small, but growing manufacturing industry in a state where it is difficult to start a business and maintain it during this current economic turndown. Heavy-handed regulation could stifle those successes.”

Fairbanks Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki, who has long supported manufacturers’ rights in the ongoing bar wars over the past several years, was the only Interior lawmaker to sign the letter. 

Ten other legislators signed the letter: Sens. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage; Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau; and Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; as well as Reps. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage; Sara Hannan, D-Juneau; Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka; John Lincoln, D-Kotzebue; Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River; Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage; and Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage. 

Some legislators support a full overhaul of Title 4, the section of law that governs the state’s alcohol industry. 

The Senate passed in a bill in May 2018, sponsored by Micciche, that would have essentially rewritten Title 4, giving the law a much-needed update, in Micciche’s view. Senate Bill 76 would have included a section that allowed a manufacturer to own a retail license or beverage dispensary license.

It would require the purchase of multiple licenses, a manufacture license and a beverage dispensary license, but it also would allow distilleries to manufacturer their products onsite and purchase and operate under a normal beverage license as if it were a bar. The bill did not pass, but the topic has garnered discussion in the legislative session since.

“Past Legislatures successfully amended AS 04.11.130-140 to outline the types of activities which breweries and distilleries are prohibited from making available in their establishments. Many of us helped work on these bills and believe brewers and distillers are acting in accordance with legislative intent. Taprooms have always been intended to be venues where gatherings can be held,” the letter reads, urging the ABC board to allow the Legislature to handle the creation and amending of such laws.

“If there is a discrepancy in statute that needs clarification, then we implore AMCO to allow the Legislature to revise the statute through legislation during the 2020 regular session rather than disrupt local businesses.”

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

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