Alcohol board rejects brewery entertainment proposal
In a defeat for smaller operations looking for clarification, the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board voted unanimously not to adopt a proposal that added specific activities to the list of events outlawed at breweries.
But discussion among board members at the ABCB meeting showed the need to further clarify and consider laws reflective of the changing industry.
Under current Alaska law breweries are not allowed to have live entertainment, televisions, pool tables, dart games, dancing, electronic or other games, game tables or other recreational or gaming opportunities on the premises where customers drink. Similar restrictions apply to distilleries and wineries.
The regulation rejected by the board would have defined "recreational or gaming opportunities" to include festivals, games and competitions, classes, parties, presentations or performances and other types of social gatherings that are advertised to the general public.
The board received 1,270 pages of public comments on the proposal. Board chairman Bob Klein said all but four were opposed to the regulations and there were only two form letters, one of which was submitted 24 times and the other about a dozen.
"There are a couple of lessons there. Number 1 is breweries, distilleries, wineries have been very welcomed, embraced and accepted by the public. There's no question about it," Klein said.
Although each board member agreed that the proposed definition was not the best path forward, the discussion highlighted a rift in how to respond to Alaska's growing craft beer scene and the laws within Alaska Statutes Title 4.
In addition to prohibiting entertainment, Title 4 requires breweries serve beer no later than 8 p.m., and the maximum amount of beer one customer can be served is 36 oz, or 2.25 pints.
Senate Bill 52, introduced last legislative session by Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) aimed update Title 4, but the bill has not made it to the Senate floor. The bill retained the restrictions on breweries that brewery advocates say stifle business growth.
Board Vice Chair and founder of Silver Gulch Brewing and Bottling Company, Glenn Brady, says that although the law can seem restrictive, he thinks they are the best compromise for both the industry and the public.
"Having grown up as a small brewery myself for the first 10 years not having any retail opportunities, I know how difficult it is," Brady said. "What we're describing in these restrictions is not manufacturing, it is retailing, and that is where we start to come into the rub."
Board member Sara Erickson, a public representative from Kenai, disagreed with Brady's characterization of the impact of the existing law.
"I think that Alaska is changing what we want as a consumer and as a state. Just like we allowed Uber to come in and the taxi drivers screamed. Those are changes that Alaskans wanted," Erickson said. "I'm very open to changes in Title 4 and offering less restrictions on these, as I believe the public really want this."
Brady cautioned that the industry compromised to get to the current regulations and that removing restrictions on breweries could have unintended consequences. Erickson said that if the role of breweries is different than when the laws were enacted, then the governing bodies should be responsive to that change.
"Not open before 9 a.m. and serving up the product ends not later than 8 p.m. That's currently the definition. Well in Kenai, the Kenai River, people don't even get off the river before 8 p.m., so they can't even go have a beer because it's closed," Erickson said. "They're already so restricted on what they can do and are missing a ton of business, at least opportunity to make money how it's currently written. So for you to say you would really hesitate for the legislature to cherry pick this, that'd be the first thing I'd change. At least in the summer hours you can stay open 'til 10 at least. It's got to work for Alaskans."
While the Alaska legislature ultimately has the authority to rewrite the statutes, Chairman Klein says that the industry group that represents breweries and the the group that represents hotels and bars are working on reaching a compromise that they will recommend moving forward.