Prohibition ended 80 years ago but it has taken that long for California to change the rules for its boutique distillers. Effective January 1 this year, distillers may now charge customers for tastes of their products.
Unlike wineries and breweries, which have been allowed to charge customers a fee in their tasting rooms, distillers had to give tastes for free and that has affected their bottom line. For example St. George Spirits in Alameda say their tasting room loses $100,000 a year. St. George makes Hangar One Vodka, absinthe, rum, whiskey, bourbon and eaux de vie.
According to Arthur Hartunian, outgoing president of the California Artisanal Distillers Guild, California is the number one market for distilled spirits in the USA. “Basically, we drink half the booze in the country.” Well, we didn’t know that. The Guild has about 40 members who just want a level playing field.
While this is a step in the right direction, thanks to pressure from the liquor distributors’ lobby, distillers are still unable to sell bottles direct to the public with the exception of brandy. California is the leader in the artisan distillery movement, but boutique spirit producers often have difficulty finding distributors to represent their product, leaving them no way to get their product to market. Wineries and breweries are allowed to sell bottles from their tasting rooms direct to customers so the playing field is still not level.