Proposed state regulations would limit events hosted by Alaska brewers and distillers

Macky Cassidy mixes a cocktail in the Port Chilkoot Distillery tasting room.

Macky Cassidy mixes a cocktail in the Port Chilkoot Distillery tasting room after it opened in 2014. (Photo by Emily Files/KHNS)

Alaska’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board recently proposed a regulation change that would prevent breweries and distilleries from hosting social gatherings that are advertised to the public. Brewers and distillers worry what the proposal could mean for their businesses.

Current state regulations restrict the activities that can take place at breweries and distilleries. Right now they’re not allowed to have live entertainment, dancing, televisions, pool tables, darts or recreational opportunities.

On Monday the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board announced a proposal to clarify the definition of entertainment and recreational opportunities. The new definition would prohibit the use of tasting rooms as a venue for classes, performances, parties, festivals and other events.

Jeanne Kitayama runs the Haines Brewing Company with her husband Paul Wheeler. Their tasting room serves as an art gallery during the monthly “First Friday” event in Haines.

Kitayama said they would have to stop if the new regulations are adopted.

“I don’t want to lose the First Friday art because this is an opportunity. It’s a great venue for a budding artist. We don’t charge consignment. We collect money for them and give it to them,” Kitayama said. “It would be sad to lose a lot of that.”

According to a memo from Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office Director Erika McConnell, the new language that prohibits these types of events aims to better reflect the legislative intent that brewery and distillery licenses are for manufacturers, not retailers.

Port Chilkoot Distillery owner Heather Shade disagrees with the state’s approach to regulating breweries and distilleries. She believes the proposed regulations are a result of a lobbying effort to protect bar owners from competition with brewers and distillers.

“I think the state should regulate the alcohol industry based on its mandate to protect public safety, and I don’t see these particular regulations as falling within that,” Shade said.

It is not the first time that state regulations have been met with resistance from brewers and distillers. In 2018, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board decided that while bars could legally serve cocktails, distilleries could not. Lawmakers passed legislation a few months later that allowed distilleries to serve mixed drinks.

Industry groups have begun to weigh in on the proposed restrictions on activities at breweries and distilleries. The Brewers Guild of Alaska opposes it, calling it a violation of First Amendment rights.

The Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, or CHARR, has not taken a position. In an email, Alaska CHARR Executive Director Sarah Oates said that while setting clear requirements helps prevent confusion and frustration on all sides, the proposed regulations add challenges to the collaborative efforts that her organization has been working on with the brewers guild.

The board’s proposal to restrict the use of breweries and distilleries for certain public events is open to public comment until Oct. 4.

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