By John Trump
Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH — A bill advancing decades’ long work to reform the state’s liquor monopoly passed in the N.C. House and heads now to the Senate.
House Bill 890 is an all-encompassing measure that, basically, helps distillers to succeed in a crowded, growing, and competitive industry. It also works to level the proverbial playing field for distillers, making rules more consistent with those governing breweries and wineries.
Lawmakers voted 110-10 to move the bill forward. Nine Republicans and just one Democrat voted against the measure. Many of the alcohol reform bills in recent years have emanated in the House under Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, who retired. The biggest alcohol-reform proponent in the Senate, Rick Gunn of Alamance, has also retired. Sen. Todd Johnson, R-Union, is sponsoring Senate Bill 453, which is similar to H.B. 890 but less comprehensive.
Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Henderson, is one of the House leaders in efforts to reform the 80-plus-year-old N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control system and is a sponsor of H.B. 890. It’s likely the much-debated bill will continue to change as it moves through Senate committees, as was the case in the House.
The bill, which incorporates some measures that by themselves cleared one chamber of the General Assembly, would allow people to order online and pick products up from state ABC stores, expand the size of growlers from two liters to four, loosen rules for tours in N.C. distilleries, and allow distillers to sell their products at festivals.
As it stands, distilleries can’t open if a local ABC is not open. This bill changes that, allowing distilleries to offer tours, tastings, and cocktails from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., although to think a distiller would hold such hours isn’t realistic. The bill would also establish a spirituous liquor council, basically a distillers’ version of the N.C. Wine and Grape Council.
Moffitt, in a committee meeting this week, said he’s trying to work within the state’s three-tiered distribution system to find ways to offer more flexibility to producers and consumers alike. The Distillers Association of N.C. supports the bill as a needed step toward alcohol parity and believes it would greatly help the state’s 90-plus distillers to succeed and to prosper.