Craft distilleries could soon offer souvenir bottles to their visitors under an alcohol bill that won support from the N.C. House on Wednesday.
The rule change – allowing distilleries to directly sell one bottle per visitor per year – was the most controversial element of an omnibus alcohol bill approved by the state Senate on Monday night. The House voted 72-44 Wednesday to OK the Senate version. A final vote set for Thursday will send the bill to Gov. Pat McCrory.
The House has already approved a different version of House Bill 909 – without the distillery provision.
Several Republican House leaders say allowing distilleries to sell a souvenir bottle is a good idea to help grow the industry in North Carolina.
“To me, this is not about alcohol,” said Rep. John Bell, a Goldsboro Republican. “It’s about jobs and economic development. I remember a few years ago when we unleashed our winery industry. I look at what happened in craft brewing. … Put the passions on each side away and look at what it actually does.”
Current law requires distilleries to refer their customers to ABC stores to buy their liquor – requirement only two other states have. House Majority Leader Mike Hager said the nearest store is a 45-minute drive away from the distillery in his Rutherford County district.
Scott Maitland, who owns the Top of the Hill distillery in Chapel Hill, said a single-bottle sales permit “is something we really need … so they will remember us when they go to the ABC store.” He said the change would allow him to hire more workers and grow the business.
But Rev. Mark Creech of the conservative Christian Action League said his group worries the change could open the door toward privatized liquor sales.
“It’s the first time in state history that bottles of liquor wouldn’t be sold in ABC stores,” Creech told the committee. “That exception sets a bad precedent, opening up the retail sales of spirituous liquor. … What we tolerate today becomes the norm tomorrow.”
Some House members said they’d rather send the bill to a conference committee, saying they didn’t like how much the Senate added after the first House vote.
“The Senate has loaded way too much into this bill,” said Rep. Gary Pendleton, a Raleigh Republican. “I see it as making it easier and easier for people to buy liquor.”
▪ While the distillery sales rule has drawn the most attention, other provisions of the alcohol bill include:
▪ A ban on the sale of powdered alcohol, which can be mixed into drinks and has been called dangerous
▪ Issuing permits for selling “antique” liquor that’s at least 20 years old
▪ Allow the sale of alcoholic cider and unfortified wine in “growler” containers for off-site consumption