Mistake invalidates ban on distilleries serving cocktails

  • Thursday, April 5, 2018 8:06pm
  • News

JUNEAU (AP) — Members of the Alaska Alcohol Beverage Control Board have been told that their January vote forbidding distilleries from serving alcoholic mixed drinks is invalid.

The vote has been deemed invalid due to a mistake made by a board member, the Juneau Empire reported Tuesday. That means the state’s distilleries can continue serving cocktails through at least the first half of this summer.

The Alaska Department of Law said public notice of the vote was improperly posted beforehand. Assistant Attorney General Harriet Milks said notice was given in the Anchorage Press, which doesn’t qualify under the Administrative Procedures Act.

“At least 30 days before the adoption, amendment, or repeal of a regulation, notice of the proposed action shall be published in the newspaper of general circulation or trade or industry publication that the state agency prescribes,” according to the act.

The board will not be able to re-vote until June at the earliest, and any decision barring mixed drinks may not be enforced until July or later.

The state must re-collect public testimony, prepare another vote and then resubmit the proposed regulation for review by the Department of Law and the office of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott.

“It looks like we’re going to have to go through all of it again,” said Brandon Howard, one of the owners of Juneau’s Amalga Distillery and one of the people who opposed the board’s action.

Lawmakers approved a bill allowing distilleries to open tasting rooms attached to their manufacturing facilities in 2014.

That law states that distilleries “may sell not more than three ounces a day of the distillery’s product to a person for consumption on the premises,” but it does not define “a distillery’s product.”

Until late 2017, that wasn’t a problem. Distilleries operated under the assumption that cocktails were allowed by existing law, and because the issue was never brought to the state’s attention, it was never considered.

But in August, the state board received a complaint that Amalga was mixing its alcohol with vermouth, an alcoholic bitter, that it bought elsewhere. That kicked off a monthslong debate among board members about whether lawmakers intended to allow mixed drinks or not.

Distilleries across the state have made mixed drinks a staple of their tasting rooms, but holders of other alcohol licenses have said allowing distilleries to serve cocktails makes them too much like bars.

Members of the Legislature have introduced bills to define a distillery’s product and allow distilleries to serve cocktails, but those appear to be stalled in the legislative process, leaving the matter to the alcohol board.

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