Artisanal distillers gear up for tasting in January, joining wineries and breweries

New legislation, signed by Governor Jerry Brown earlier this year, the Taste California Act (AB 933) allows manufacturers of distilled spirits and brandy to provide tastings on terms similar to breweries and wineries starting Jan. 1, 2014.

Before AB 933, distilleries could provide complementary samples but, unlike breweries and wineries, could not charge. About 32 distilleries in the state will benefit from changes to tied-house laws. California was among only four states that prohibited distillery tasting rooms.

“This is an exciting time for artisan distillers, as this long-overdue change allows them to market and promote their unique products to the public,” said Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, who introduced the legislation. “And I’m happy to toast to the growth of artisan distillers here in California.”

“We welcome more comprehensive changes to outdated alcohol and beverage control laws, so that California can become the leader of the distillery industry,” said Cris Steller, CADG Executive Director and partner in Dry Diggings Distillery, based in El Dorado Hills (5050 Robert J. Mathews Pkwy, El Dorado Hills, 95762). Products under development are vodka, whiskey and other liquors/eaux de vie that will be produced from locally grown products.

When prohibition ended in 1933, California enacted a series of statues known as “tied house laws.” These laws separate liquor trade into three separate levels: producers, wholesalers, and retailers. The intention of these laws was for the three levels to remain separate. However, the Legislature has granted many specific exemptions; exemplified by the wine and beer industry, as they manufacture, sell, and market their own products. Such exemptions have yet to be applied to distilled spirits manufacturers whose products have been gaining much popularity in the state of California.

There are roughly 32 small business distilleries in the state; some common brands produced are Hangar One Vodka and St. George Spirits. These distilleries manufacture a variety of products including, but not limited to gin, vodka, rum and bourbon. Currently, distilleries may provide their customers complementary tastings of their products, but may not charge for tastings. In order to educate consumers about their products, distilleries must hire staff. The ability to charge for tastings will allow distilleries to provide great customer service to market their product while remaining financially sustainable. The ability to charge for tastings is also aligned with what the wine and beer industries are allowed to do.

AB 933 would authorize distilled spirits manufacturers and brandy manufacturers to charge consumers for tastings on their licensed premises and would impose additional conditions on the provision of tastings by the licensee on the licensed premises. Additionally, AB 933 would eliminate the requirement that persons attending an event involving distilled spirits tastings, sponsored by a nonprofit organization, must be affiliated with the sponsor.

Members of the California Artisanal Distillers Guild are HERE.

—Assemblymember Nancy Skinner’s office

(Photos: Diggins Dry Distillery and Southern California Public Radio)

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