OLYMPIA – Customers sampling liquor at Washington craft distilleries can have their half shot with water or soda.
Charities can auction wine to raise money.
Craft distilleries can get a license to store their liquor in a warehouse.
Wineries can have twice as many tasting rooms, where they can sell growlers and kegs of their products as well as samples.
Mead is officially defined in state law.
These and other changes are being made to the state’s liquor laws, which undergo yearly revisions to meet growing demand, changing consumer tastes and the movement away from state control of key aspects of the sale of and distribution of alcohol.
“The system is a legacy of prohibition,” said Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane. “The big jolt was the privatization of liquor in 2012. That has created an ongoing series of legislation as the state transitions.”
Washington enacted prohibition before the nation did, and when the national amendment was repealed, the state kept tight control of alcohol sales. Washington voters did away with that in 2012 by passing Initiative 1183, but the state still licenses businesses that make, distribute and sell alcoholic products through its Liquor and Cannabis Board.
The Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee, which Baumgartner chairs, has jurisdiction over most alcohol legislation in the Senate. For several years, the panel has held hearings on proposed changes to licenses and regulations in an evolving market.
“Craft beer, craft liquor, craft cider … anything craft, people are getting into,” Baumgartner said.
One way for the small wineries, craft distilleries and cider manufacturers to showcase their products is with tastings. The state initially limited where and how those tastings could take place, and is slowly relaxing the regulations.
For example, several years ago the state allowed distilleries to offer samples – whether they charge is up to them – but only with certain conditions. The sample couldn’t be more than a half ounce, with a 2-ounce limit per customer. The customers had to take their half-shots straight.
A bill Gov. Jay Inslee signed Monday allows the distillery tasting rooms to add nonalcoholic mixes or water to their samples, if a customer requests.
Washington winemakers were limited to two tasting rooms away from their main winery or vineyard. Another bill Inslee signed Monday expands that to four tasting rooms. Those tasting rooms can sell wine by the glass, by the keg or in sanitized containers known as growlers.
Taverns were also granted approval to cater an event at another location, using their own supplies of alcohol, if they get an endorsement to their liquor license. Restaurants already had that ability.
Stores that want to sell beer, wine and liquor can get a single “combination” license, instead of multiple license for the different types of alcohol.
Nonprofits that want to auction wine to raise some money can now get a special license from the Liquor and Cannabis Board to do that. They can even allow tastings at the auction, provided the tastings are for wine that’s going to be auctioned.
The state’s growing number of craft distillers can get a license from the board to store their liquor in a warehouse that’s separate from the distillery. Baumgartner said that grew out of a situation he considered “Kafka-esque.” A craft distiller got a citation for not storing his liquor in a licensed warehouse, but the board didn’t have such a license to issue. Now it will.
Mead, a fermented beverage made from honey, was officially added to Washington’s list of approved alcoholic products. A bill signed last week gives the beverage – which has been around for thousands of years – a definition in state law. It also says the agricultural commodity assessment for wine production can’t be collected on mead and allows the beverage to be sold by anyone with a license to sell beer or cider, including tap rooms that sell growlers for takeout.
Most bills passed the House and Senate with large bipartisan majorities. Opposition is often bipartisan, too, with some lawmakers opposed to increasing the availability of alcohol without corresponding increases in programs to fight alcohol abuse, drunk driving and underage drinking.