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State Laws Would Support Local Distillers

Rep. Jennifer Williamson told the Oregon Legislature’s House Committee on Business and Labor that her two distillery bills are not encouraging anyone to drink more hard liquor, but to drink Oregon hard liquor. 

Williamson, a Democrat, is chief sponsor of two bills moving forward in the Oregon Legislature that would improve ways distilleries are allowed to market and sell their products. She became aware of some of the industry’s concerns after she and her husband took a tasting tour of Bull Run Distillery, which is close to her Portland district. 

HB 2567 addresses several of the concerns Williamson heard during her tasting at Bull Run. Reps. John Lively, Nancy Nathanson and Paul Holvey are cosponsors. 

The bill would allow the sale of bulk liquor between distilleries in the state. Currently, distillers can purchase bulk liquor from across the country and the world, but they can’t buy in bulk from another distiller in their own state. It also would allow distillers to host cocktail classes and other special events to showcase their products at their Oregon Liquor Control Commission-approved tasting rooms.

Ben Maude, co-owner of Monroe-based Hard Times Distillery, says thus far the legislation looks like it is going to give him fantastic opportunities to grow his business. At the Festival of Eugene last year he faced many hurdles to even be a part of the celebration. Because it was held in a park, only alcohol under a certain proof level could be sold. He had to sell his product as a pre-mixed cocktail.

“We couldn’t even display our own bottles,” Maude says. He says it’s unfair that wineries and breweries can sell their crafted alcoholic beverages at community events, but he cannot.

HB 2567 wouldn’t change the fact that distilled spirits are not allowed in parks, but it would allow distillers to collaborate at special events across the state. Instead of each distiller having to travel to events to show off their product, the law would allow them to hire one person to run a tasting room with several Oregon distillers. 

“If you can try all sorts of things from across the state, you’ll have a much more rich experience,” Maude says. 

HB 2567 would also allow distillers to use spirits from out of state to make cocktails in their tasting room. Patrick Bernards, founder of Bull Run Distillery, says he is frustrated that he can’t use his own spirits to show customers how it can be used to make his favorite cocktail — “Satan’s Whiskers.” He doesn’t have plans to make the orange curaçao liqueur called for in the recipe himself, so he hopes the bill will be approved. 

Any cocktail Bernards made in his tasting room would still need to have an Oregon product in it. 

The other bill making headway in Salem is HB 2568 — a law that would establish the Oregon Spirits Board. It is cosponsored by Holvey, Nathanson and Rep. Val Hoyle. 

Oregon has similar organizations for breweries and wineries, to promote tourism and to help organize support and collaboration between the industries and the state. The distillery board would have nine members and be funded by one to four cents from the sale of every bottle purchased. The pennies would directly fund the board, instead of going to the General Fund. 

Despite scrutiny of the bill’s funding aspects by the League of Oregon Cities and Bend-based Republican Rep. Sal Esquivel, HB 2568 passed out of its first committee in the House, and it is now in the House Ways and Means Committee. HB 2567 passed out of the House and is scheduled for a public hearing and work session in the Senate Business and Transportation Committee. — Lucy Ohlsen