Inslee signs distillery changes into law

MATT BENOIT MURROW NEWS SERVICEMarch 28, 2014 

River Sands Schiro.jpg

Paul Schiro, owner of River Sands Distillery, holds a bottle of gin at his downtown Kennewick business.

HERALD FILE

Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Thursday a bill providing several changes for the state's 83 distilleries.

Senate Bill 6226, which takes effect June 12, removes a 3 liter per person, per day limit on spirit purchases and also raises the annual production limit of a distillery from 60,000 to 150,000 gallons.

Distillers also would be able to charge customers for half-ounce samples and be free to contract with other distilleries.

The owners of two Tri-City distilleries -- West Richland's Black Heron Spirits and Kennewick's River Sands Distillery -- had different feelings about how their operations might affected by the changes.

River Sands owner Paul Schiro said he was especially happy about the removal of the 3-liter limit.

"There's been many times where we could have sold more to our customers coming in, but have not been able to do that," he said. "It was frustrating for them that we couldn't provide them with more than the three liters."

Mark Williams, owner of Black Heron, said his customers rarely purchase more than 3 liters during a visit, so he likely would not see a change in sales.

A normal-sized bottle of spirits, often referred to as a fifth (of a gallon), is 750 ml, or three-quarters of a liter.

Both owners said they'd think about charging for samples.

Schiro said many wineries charge for tastings and he thinks it's a good idea.

"We're not going to charge $5 for a tasting, but I think $1 or $2 would be very reasonable for us to charge for tastings," he said.

Williams said that while it is nice to have the option of charging customers for samples, the amount people sample is usually quite small and most customers typically buy something instead of just taking advantage of free samples.

Black Heron's tasting room has been operating for a year, Williams said, and he can recall only twice when a customer sampled all his products without buying anything.

"It just doesn't happen," he said. "To me, the fee is just not a big deal."

While neither distillery produces between 60,000 to 150,000 gallons a year, Williams said the production ceiling increase likely will benefit larger craft distilleries, such as Spokane's DryFly Distilling.

However, DryFly's website states its annual production to be 12,000 to 15,000 cases of 750 ml bottles, a figure that translates to less than 3,000 gallons.

"60,000 is a lot," Williams said.

Both men said they wouldn't be interested in contracting with other distilleries to sell their products, or selling another distillery's products.

Schiro said having control over the production and quality of its product is important, while Williams had a different concern.

"If I had the option of carrying other people's products, am I going to become the liquor store, then? That's not really my goal," he said.

While Schiro said he was pleased with the new laws, he said he would like to see an additional change: eliminating a law that ensures at least 50 percent of distilling materials be Washington-grown products.

"We love using locally grown products, but it limits us on the type of alcohols that we can produce," he said.

If the distillery wanted to produce rum, for instance, Schiro said it would be unable to because no sugar is grown in Washington state.

Williams said he would have rather seen the state's liquor taxes reduced.

"The people have a problem with the taxes," he said. "That's where a change would have been nice."

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