Proposed regulations could prohibit distilleries, breweries from hosting art shows, product release parties

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) Proposed changes to regulations by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, if adopted, could change business for local distilleries and breweries. The draft regulations proposed say that they define ‘other recreational or gaming opportunities,’ which distillery and brewery owners say muddies the definition more than clarifying it.

Proposed changes to regulations by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, if adopted, could change business for local distilleries and breweries. Like Hoarfrost Distilling (pictured above) [Sara Tewksbury/KTVF]

“The definition says that ‘other recreational and gaming opportunities includes festivals, games and competitions, classes, parties, except private parties limited to specific invited guests, presentations or performances and other types of social gatherings that are advertised to the general public.’ Which we take to mean, virtually anything we advertise that would bring people in, no matter what. Including things like First Friday art shows, and a new product launch for example, we have a big launch event when we have new liquor, like when we release our Limoncello. A lot of people try to come in and get it right away, it’s an exciting event, but that seems to fall under their definition, and we feel like we would be prevented from doing that,” said Luick, owner of Hoarfrost Distilling.

“The new definition really narrows down what we can do here in our tasting room, and I can’t say that we really agree with the definition as it’s been put forth, because it would really inhibit our ability to advertise our business as well as to utilize our venue to collaborate with other local businesses and to educate people about craft beer,” said Stephanie Haskins, one of the owners of Black Spruce Brewing Company.

“It’s kind of ridiculous, and it feels like it’s more of a vindictive sort of thing at this point, I don’t really see the point, they say they want to clarify these regulations but they’re kind of muddying them even

more and just opening it up to even more restriction on us, and for no reason. There’s no goal in public safety or health to not let us have a First Friday art show, or not have a product release party or something like that,” said Borland, owner of Ursa Major Distilling.

One thing that may be affected by the new regulations would be events celebrating the release of a new beer or liquor. Haskins with Black Spruce Brewing Company, said when they had their beer release over the weekend, they had a beer release, with Hungry Robot making specialized pizza to go with the beer. The next day they held another beer release where Haskins says they collaborated with Bun on the Run.

“So we tried to do as many things as we could to really reach out to other local businesses, so if this new definition were to be put into effect, it would really restrict our ability to do so, and as I said, to utilize our venue because we host, not only ourselves, but we have Hungry Robot here every day, when we released a new beer with coffee, we had Lifeline Coffee Roasters here selling their coffee and we would really like to continue doing activities like that, because they not only bring people in our doors but they create awareness for other local businesses as well,” said Haskins.

Another thing that multiple owners say they participate in is hosting ‘First Friday’ events where they host a local artist to display their art, and then keep the art up on the walls of the distillery or brewery, in hopes of selling art.

“We have artists scheduled for about the next year and a half, we’ve always had a large number of very good artists that want to come in here and do art shows, and we’ve been helping them sell their art every single month for two and a half years now. Under these regulations, an art show that’s advertised to the public wouldn’t be allowed,” said Luick.

Haskins says Black Spruce Brewing Company has participated in hosting ‘First Friday’ events since they opened last December. “As soon as we were able to begin hosting First Friday shows we did. We’ve had different types of media every month since this January, and we’re looking to continue to do so well into the future.” Haskins also says a portion of the proceeds from every ‘First Friday’ art sales has gone to local non-profits.

“I just don’t really see why people wouldn’t want to continue supporting their neighbors, so we would really be upset if we weren’t able to continue collaborating with artists, continue collaborating with other businesses and non-profits, because we’re looking to be in Fairbanks for the long haul, and looking to be in Alaska for the long haul, so we want to make sure we’re giving to the community as much as we’re getting from them coming through our doors,” said Haskins.

Borland says they have a petition going around to see what type of support the distilleries and breweries have, in case the ABC board passes the regulation and Borland has to go to the legislature to fight it.

Borland says they have good legislative support and over 2,000 signatures on the petition.

“It’s just ridiculous that we couldn’t have a First Friday art show or when we come out with a new product, that we can’t have a little party to show it off, or something like that. The way the law works, any gathering that we advertise to the public, so what’s that even mean? It’s not clarifying what they’re trying to clarify, it’s making it even muddier, so if we advertise for a food truck, oh come try this food truck, does that mean we’re breaking that law as well? It’s just ridiculous,” said Borland.

“I’m really struggling to find any way that this benefits anyone really, because this proposed definition doesn’t really serve any public safety benefit as I can see it. By not having events here, we’re not encouraging people to stay and take their time and enjoying our beer or to try food from another local vendor, it’s just looking to get them in and out, which I think many people would argue is going to be a lot more dangerous for public safety, because it’s encouraging people to consume alcohol and then leave swiftly,” said Haskins.

“We see this as a problem between us and the Alaska and Marijuana Control Office, obviously none of us got into the alcohol business because we’re anti-bar, we all like bars, we all want to do business with bars, and we have friends that own bars. To us, this is just a case where the AMCO office has come up with regulations that we think aren’t appropriate, they didn’t involve us in helping write them, they didn’t notify us that they were going to adopt the regulations, they haven’t mentioned it to us directly since almost a year ago, nine months ago or more,” said Luick.

Borland thinks it’s coming from the director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, Erika McConnell. “It’s almost like she has a weird interpretation of things or she has a slot of where she wants us to fit like in her mind, what a distillery should be but it doesn’t go the way the law is written, we wrote that law, we drafted it, legislators have said that this was our intent to do this, but in her mind, she just still wants to kind of pigeon hole us in this one little area. It’s like she’s still pushing that and trying to get the board on board with that,” said Borland.

When asked for comment, McConnell said, “The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has the authority to adopt regulations. The intent of the regulations project is to clarify the meaning of “other recreational or gaming opportunities.” The board is required by the Administrative Procedures Act to give interested persons the opportunity to submit comments. The board “shall consider all factual, substantive, and other relevant matter presented to it before adopting, amending, or repealing a regulation. When considering the factual, substantive, and other relevant matter, the agency [board] shall pay special attention to the cost to private persons of the proposed regulatory action.” (AS 44.62.210(a)).”

The board is accepting public comment until October 4th and can be submitted by email to AMCO.Regs@alaska.gov. According to McConnell, “The matter will be calendared on the agenda of the next regular board meeting, which is November 12, but they may or may not vote on the matter at that meeting.”

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