Powdered alcohol, distillery sales, other ABC provisions rolled into one bill
Posted May 21, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — A bill that originally dealt with selling 20-year-old bottles of liquor has now become a sweeping omnibus adjusting eight different areas of the state's alcohol laws.
The Senate Commerce Committee rolled out the newly expanded bill Thursday morning. Some of the changes are relatively technical, such as a provision that allows brewers to lease their equipment to smaller brewers and another that allows distillers of cider to sell jugs of their products known as growlers.
Others have been well-debated, such as a proposed ban on powdered alcohol. The measure passed the House with a wide margin of support, and nobody spoke against it Thursday.
The bill also provides a way for bars to legally purchase 20-year-old bottles of liquor and obtain the appropriate tax stamps and would allow golf resorts in rural areas to have minibars in their guest rooms.
But one provision did turn out to be controversial.
Under current law, distilleries can hold tastings on their premises but are unable to sell their own products. In North Carolina, the only place you can legally buy a bottle of spirituous liquors – rum, vodka, gin and the like – is at an ABC Store run by a unit of local government.
The new alcohol omnibus bill, House Bill 909, would allow distillers to sell their product after someone takes a tour of the facility.
"This is a good way for them to promote their business," Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, told the committee.
The intent of the provision, Gunn said, was to allow one person to buy one bottle of liquor per year from a particular distillery. However, a lawyer for the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission said that, as written, the proposal would let an individual buy several bottles of liquor per year. Gunn said that he would fix the measure before it passed.
Opposition came from two fronts.
"One bottle is a significant change for us," said Jon Carr, a lobbyist for the North Carolina Association of ABC Boards.
Local governments, Carr said, would miss out on the taxes that are normally collected when liquor is sold. Creating this small exception now, he said, could open the way for bigger exceptions in the future for either distilleries or other businesses involved in the alcohol trade.
"Where does it stop?" he asked.
That line of thought was picked up by Rev. Mark Creech, director of the North Carolina Christian Action League, which advocates for tighter controls on alcohol sales.
Creech described distillery sales as "a significant, even major, policy shift that will undermine (North Carolina's) control of alcohol sales."
"You cannot give a right and a privilege to one group and then withhold it from another," he said. "It's like a chip in the windshield for your car. The crack will just spread."
Among those advocating for the change was Patrick Ballantine, a former state senator and gubernatorial candidate who lobbies on behalf of distillers.
Ballantine described his clients as "artisan entrepreneurs" who grow not only their own business but buy and use North Carolina agricultural products as well.
"This is not apocalyptic," he said.
Committee members passed the bill on a voice vote, and it bill next goes to the Senate Finance Committee before heading to the floor.