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Eye On Boise

Liquor sampling: ‘An economic development tool’

Idaho enacted a state law regulating and permitting wine tastings five years ago, so why not allow the same for distilled spirits? That’s what Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, proposed this morning in legislation that the House State Affairs Committee agreed to introduce on a voice vote, with just one dissenter. “I am here today because I have a constituent in North Idaho who would like to build a distillery for distilled spirits beverages, i.e. gin,” Clark told the committee. “In his business plan, he would like to add in that they can go do gin sample tastings within his operation.”

Clark noted that the wine tasting bill passed in 2004 with just one no vote in the House (it had nine no votes in the Senate), and he said it’s worked fine. “These events have been extremely, extremely successful,” Clark said. “We authorized it in 2004, and McDonald’s hasn’t started doing it, and they can’t start doing it either.” That was an apparent reference to a comment during House debate last year in which Rep. Russ Mathews, R-Idaho Falls, suggested Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed reforms to how liquor licenses are doled out in Idaho would result in “a little nippy in there instead of a happy toy in that Happy Meal.” The House defeated that bill.

The existing wine-tasting law allows either wineries or retail outlets to hold tastings, but Clark’s bill would permit only manufacturers of distilled spirits or licensed bars to hold tastings of hard liquor. Portion sizes would be limited to one ounce, as opposed to the 1-1/2 ounce limit in the wine-tasting law; and the frequency of tastings would be limited. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, questioned why the number of samples a patron could receive weren’t limited by the law. “I assume someone could hang around, and, ah….” he said. Clark said he’d consider such possible changes once the bill has its full hearing; today’s vote was just to introduce it. “I wouldn’t have a problem with that, but it’s a little bit different than in the wine sampling, so I guess we’re not happy with the wine sampling then we should amend that also,” he said. “But we haven’t had any problem for over five years. I don’t think there’s ever been one case of somebody being intoxicated at a sampling.”

He added, “It’s an economic development tool and it’s not going to increase the number of people who are out there drinking. They went in there to sample and/or buy product. They’ll be over 21 and all those kinds of issues.”

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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