March 10, 2015

New bill could benefit Colorado distilleries

A new bill may affect Colorado distilleries.

A new bill may affect Colorado distilleries.

New legislature in The Centennial state could drastically change the way chefs and Colorado culinary school students experience distilleries. Effectively, the bill in question pertains to the right of distilleries statewide to serve their products in house. While these institutions are currently limited to distributing their liquor through a regulated, external process, this bill has the potential to allow them to serve booze to patrons who tour the facility. As of yet, the bill has only made its way through the House, and still has to face a vote in the Senate. Were it to pass fully, it could completely change the experience of those looking for fine spirits or craft cocktails in Colorado.

The bill
According to Westword, the legislation in question is bill HB15-1204. It was first introduced into the Colorado legislature by Dan Pabon, a Democrat who resides in Denver, in an effort to make the competition more fair for small operations. Essentially, under the current law, wineries and breweries are given what many view as an unfair boon over distilleries. While the two former types of operations are allowed to sell other alcoholic products and food at their locations, distilleries are not. Many believe this advantage allows those businesses to attract a larger demographic of customers, as they can basically function as restaurants. The bill would allow distilleries the same advantage as their competitors, enabling them to market food, beer and wine from external producers on site.

Reception in the House
The initial reaction to the bill has been overwhelmingly positive. According to The Coloradoan, the state House of Representatives passed the legislation by a unanimous vote, demonstrating widespread support for artisan distilleries. There seems to be a bit of a disconnect between political representatives and the actual distillery owners and operators, though. Some of the individuals who run these operations have expressed that capitalizing on the freedom the bill provides would require an entirely new business model. In speaking with The Coloradoan, Jason Hevelone, who owns CopperMuse distillery, commented:

“You’d literally have to close one business and start all over fresh with the new one. It would have been nice to offer wine and beer in my tasting room, but I didn’t have that model at my disposal at the time we opened.”

Effect on other states
While the bill was introduced in Colorado, it has the potential to impact the way in which distilleries operate across the country. The Kentucky Courier-Journal has reported that a bill currently in front of its state legislature has proposed allowing distilleries there to sell their own products. As it stands now, these businesses are only allowed to distribute up to an ounce of their product per customer for free, so this new bill could drastically increase revenue. In speaking with the Courier-Journal, Ken Lewis, who owns a distillery in the state, indicated the bill’s potential to position Kentucky well against states like Colorado.

“We want Kentucky to be in the front of craft distilling in the United States. We don’t want that mantle to go to Colorado or Oregon or Washington. We want it for Kentucky,” said Lewis.