California Forum

Time to untied the hands of local distillers

Cris Steller
Cris Steller

Dan Morain’s column “Liquor bill tries to aid the little guys” (Forum, March 8) shed light on Prohibition-era California liquor laws that hinder small-craft distillers from expanding their operations and growing their business.

It wasn’t until January 2014 that we could even offer paid tastings at distilleries like ours in El Dorado Hills. With Assembly Bill 1233, we would be able to sell only three bottles of spirits to a consumer from our distillery.

On its face, the simplicity of AB 1233 downplays the law’s significance and potential economic impact. Fortunately, a bipartisan, bicameral group of nearly 30 legislative co-authors has signed on to push the law past the entrenched liquor lobby that Morain identified.

But we should be clear that our goal is not to dismantle the three-tier liquor-distribution system currently in place. The impetus of AB 1233 is quite the opposite; we want to establish our brands and teach the public at tastings about small-batch, distilled spirits.

By establishing an initial sale at our tasting rooms, the public can take a product with them and share our brand. Once that relationship is established, and the brand can travel with tourists as gifts, small distilleries can grow. When that next bottle is desired, the consumer will go to a local retailer and ask for it by name.

A stronger three-tier system that links local consumers with local producers will emerge, one where “field to bottle” joins “farm to fork” while fulfilling consumer desires for locally sourced products that provide jobs, tax revenue and economic diversity.

We are one of the last states in the country to adopt this change. By allowing limited direct sales at tasting rooms, we will grow brands that retailers will seek out for their shelves to compete with large, out-of-state brands.

Thirty years ago, the craft distilling industry started in Northern California, and in 2015, it’s time to repeal Prohibition and catch up to the rest of the country.

Cris Steller, executive director of the California Artisanal Distillers Guild, is a partner of Dry Diggings Distillery in El Dorado Hills.