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First part of liquor changes starts today

Restaurants, bars can buy from distillers

YAKIMA – Washington bars and restaurants will be allowed to buy liquor directly from distilleries beginning today, marking the first step in substantial changes to how the state sells spirits.

Voters approved an initiative last fall to privatize liquor sales and dismantle Washington’s state-run liquor system, which was formed in the 1930s in the aftermath of Prohibition. The measure, backed by retailing giant Costco, allows stores larger than 10,000 square feet to sell liquor, though it could allow smaller stores to sell liquor if there are no other outlets in a trade area.

Restaurants largely supported the initiative, and they’ll experience the first benefits today, when they can buy directly from producers.

The day won’t represent a big change in the alcohol world, but it’s the beginning of a new system for Washington, said Don Poffenroth of Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane. Dry Fly is in the process of hiring a distributor to sell its vodka, gin, bourbon and whiskey.

“We are too big of a small distillery to go around and start delivering to bars and restaurants. But there may be some tiny distilleries that may start to do that, primarily because they can’t get a distributor,” he said.

The biggest impact comes in June, Poffenroth said, when consumers will be able to buy liquor directly from private retailers.

More than 800 retailers across the state have applied to sell liquor, including Costco, Fred Meyer, Albertsons and Safeway.