By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
July 2, 2019
Distilleries are a burgeoning industry in North Carolina. There were eight distilleries across the state in 2010. Today there are eighty-one. With that kind of growth, there also comes political leverage.
In recent years, distillers have coalesced into a politically powerful group and have been pushing the envelope each legislative session and making small gains along the way.
The Christian Action League has resisted their advances because (1) they want parity with the craft breweries and wineries in the state, and (2) their goals undermine the current system of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
North Carolina has never held, nor should it ever concede, that liquor is by nature equal with beer and wine. It isn’t, and the rules should not be applied the same way.
The sale of bottled spirits in the Tar Heel state has been rightly reserved to local Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) stores because spirits are considerably more problematic by nature. In terms of Alcohol by Volume (ABV), spirits are typically much stronger than beer and wine. Standard spirits are about 35-40% ABV, and some are even higher. Beer and wine are much lower, usually much below 15% ABV.
So the claim by many that alcohol is alcohol doesn’t stand up to the facts. Liquor is much different, and stricter controls are appropriate.
In 2015, distilleries won legislation permitting them to sell one commemorative bottle of liquor at the distillery to customers that take a tour of their facilities. The legislation was historic in that it was the first time since the repeal of Prohibition the state authorized the sale of liquor outside of ABC stores.
In 2016, the distilleries came back and pushed for legislation that would have allowed the sale of its products on site from one commemorative bottle per year, per customer, to retail sales for one of each brand the distillery manufactures. That initiative did not succeed.
Nevertheless, in 2017, the distilleries convinced lawmakers to allow them to sell five bottles per customer per 12-month period to anyone who took a tour, up from the former limit of one bottle per customer.
The latest initiative, SB 290-Distiller Regulatory Reform, a bill that has already made its way through the Senate this year, and barring intervention from God, is certain to pass the House when lawmakers return from their July 4th holiday. This measure is a veritable Christmas in July for distillers.
SB 290 removes the on-site bottle-sale cap at distilleries from five bottles to unlimited sales. It allows them to serve mixed beverages along with beer and wine at the distillery. Moreover, it allows ABC stores to offer in-store liquor tastings events, which gives distilleries (as well as other liquor companies) the opportunity to promote their products at the ABC store.
“Wins by the distilleries over the last few years, in my estimation, are losses for alcohol control. These wins throw sand into the bearings of the well-run engine of the North Carolina ABC system. Furthermore, not one of our state’s citizens has ever cast a vote in an alcohol election for spirituous liquor to be sold by a distillery. They voted for sales only in ABC stores. Keeping liquor tightly restricted to ABC stores has worked exceedingly well in minimizing the harms of alcohol use and abuse. These victories by the distilleries fail to honor our proper understanding or deference to the long-time recognition that liquor is inherently more problematic than other forms of alcohol. Undermining that philosophical position is a poison pill for the ABC system and will inevitably lead to greater access to liquor,” said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
Rev. Creech said that he has worked alongside the North Carolina ABC Boards for the last several years to protect their interests, because he believed it was in the public’s best interest to do so.
“But the ABC Boards dropped their opposition to the unlimited on-site sales by the distilleries, and they also moved from a position of neutrality on in-store liquor tastings to one of support,” said Creech. “Liquor tastings at an ABC store are a paradigm shift of the store’s role. The stores are supposed to be neutral, but a tastings event at the ABC store is an alliance between the industry and the store to promote liquor, and that’s not right. I’m exceedingly disappointed by their change of positions. They left me standing at the altar with no partner, and there’s no way we can win unless there are solidarity and loyalty.”
Creech added that fighting what he calls, “Big Al,” (Big Alcohol) will require a determined campaign against the relentless, never-ending, push by alcohol manufacturers for more privileges.
“The distilleries aren’t finished. The Distillers Association of North Carolina has said in a statement that our current system is ‘incredibly inefficient,’ and ‘it harms the North Carolina economy by chilling potential investment which would create jobs and taxes.’ Notice they never focus on anything except the money to be made,” said Creech.
“Do you think they ever really consider public health and safety? Do you think they seriously care about who gets harmed by their marketing or their products? No! People who suffer from alcohol-related harms are just collateral damage to them. The distillers will be back for more and more and more.
“The only thing that will stop them is whether or not your lawmaker understands the threat – the negative progression of these new reforms to the state’s alcohol policies. Unfortunately, most legislators don’t recognize or acknowledge the dangers, and unless citizen Christians confront them about alcohol issues, they register the silence as complicity,” Creech concluded.
Merry Christmas in July to the distilleries. NOT!!!!!