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Bill seeks liquor sampling at farmers markets

OLYMPIA – Locally distilled liquor could be bought at farmers markets along with organic tomatoes and handmade candles under a plan being considered by the Legislature.

And customers in state liquor stores would be able to taste test some pricey or exotic brands before buying under another proposal.

The state’s growing number of craft distilleries could sell their gins, vodkas and whiskeys at farmers markets that obtain the proper permits under Senate Bill 5650. Some farmers markets already can offer local wine or beer.

Ryan Hembree of Skip Rock distillers in Snohomish County said it would be a way of keeping money local by selling liquor made from local grains. “There’s a community pride in the product,” he said.

Select state liquor stores would be able to offer customers up to four quarter-ounce samples of different products under Senate Bill 5150, much the way wine shops and wineries can now offer samples of their products. Stores could decide whether to charge for the samples, and customers couldn’t leave the store with the samples or be served if they were clearly intoxicated.

Matt McCarthy of the Distillers Representatives Association of Washington said the proposal is a good idea as customers become inundated with new products like fruit-flavored vodkas. Some are expensive and customers may be reluctant to buy a bottle without trying it, he added.

“I was astonished at the variety of flavored vodka and flavored gins,” Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, said.

While representatives of the state Liquor Control Board and the liquor industry were strongly supportive, Liz Wilhelm of the Washington Association of Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention said it would send a bad message to children to see their parents down four samples, get in a car and drive.

“What’s next? Sampling at gas stations and mini-marts?” Wilhelm asked.

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