What does California have in common with Nevada, Alaska and Mississippi? If you’re stumped, don’t worry, because there may actually only be one thing: A prohibition against distilleries selling tastes and bottles of their product at the actual distillery.
Yep, it’s true. When it comes to certain liquor laws, California is about as progressive as a dogsled race. But if the California Artisanal Distillers Guild or CADG, has their way, that may soon change. The “Taste California” petition, currently being lobbied in Sacramento, is challenging Prohibition-era laws that make it impossible for distilleries to sell tastings along with a tour, just as wineries and breweries are already allowed to do.
St. George Spirits in Alameda manages to comply with the law while still offering tastes to visitors by not charging for them. But as Master Distiller Lance Winters explains, that can get expensive and is not sustainable. Additionally, the arrangement by which they are able to sell bottles of their product “on” premises is a circus of absurdity: St. George leases the space to a third-party retailer who must order the product from the distributor. So essentially a bottle of gin is made in Alameda then shipped 75 miles away and then back again. “You can grow medicinal marijuana and sell that directly to the consumer — a substance that is still controlled by the federal government — but you can’t make and sell spirits directly to consumers,” says Winters. “Even states like Utah are more progressive than California in this regard.”
The problem, like so many liquor restrictions, dates back to the Prohibition. “In the pre-Prohibition-era in the US, while there was some wine production, wine wasn’t as big a business, but distillers and brewers actually had some clout," attorney John Trinidad told Sonoma’s Index-Tribune in January. “When Prohibition actually began, a lot of the social ills associated with the saloons were more directly linked with the influence of beer and spirits,” said Trinidad.
The 30 members of the CADG, which includes other local producers like Distillery 209 and Treasure Island as well as Wine Country renegades Charbay, HelloCello and Stillwater vodka would very much like to have proper tasting rooms. “Basically we want to be able to operate just like the wineries and breweries in our state do,” said Arthur Hartunian, president of CADG.
If you’re asking yourself what can I do to make a difference? I’m just one person! There is something, actually, and you won’t even need a picket sign. Visit the CADG website and sign the petition. It’s not going to change the world, but it will certainly make California a better place to be a distiller, which makes it a better place for everyone.