Both chambers of the North Carolina legislature have passed a bill with a number of measures related to the sale of alcohol. If the bill becomes law, one of those measures will allow North Carolina distilleries to sell their alcoholic products for consumption off premises.
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Visitors to Top of the Hill distillery in Chapel Hill can watch the company’s production process from fermentation to finish. Giant stainless steel containers full of spirits in various stages of production tower over the clean concrete floor. Above, a maze of pipes wind across the ceiling.
At the end of the tour, visitors can get a taste of Top of the Hill’s vodka, whiskey or gin. But if they want to actually buy a bottle, owner Scott Maitland has to give them directions to the ABC store.
State law restricts the sale of alcoholic spirits for consumption off-site to ABC stores, which are run by the state or local Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. Maitland says that law is holding back his businesses’ growth.
“It’s not like people leave the distillery so fired up that they’re going to drive right on over to the ABC system,” Maitland said. “Ninety-five percent of the people, when they are in the distillery, say they’re going to buy a bottle. But when we follow up, less than 30 percent actually buy.”
Maitland has been a vocal advocate of House Bill 909. The legislation would allow North Carolina distilleries to sell their spirits on-site for customers to drink elsewhere–albeit, not very much.
“We’re talking one bottle per person, per year,” Maitland said.
Even with these limitations on sales at the distillery, Maitland said he believes the bill creates an important marketing opportunity that will allow him to grow his consumer base and add employees.
“Although the sales are important for sure, we think the biggest impact of this is the repeat sales and the increased brand awareness,” he said.
Some legislators who opposed House Bill 909 worry the bill is the beginning of a slippery slope towards the privatization of alcohol retail in the state. Several house members also say they are frustrated with the addition of multiple provisions by the Senate. The bill would also completely restrict the production, consumption and sale of powdered alcohol in the state, as well as loosen restrictions on the sale of large containers of hard cider and wine known as growlers.
House Bill 909 is on its way to the governor’s desk.