The Haines Assembly has decided to weigh in as distilleries and state regulators argue over the sale of cocktails.
With a unanimous vote, the Assembly agreed to send a letter to the State requesting cocktails remain on the menu in Alaska’s distilleries.
Assembly member Tom Morphet brought the issue forward. He was motivated because of how changes could affect Haines’ Port Chilkoot Distillery.
“There have been no public concerns as far as I can tell. The people at the distillery have put us on the map in terms of this new industry,” Morphet said. “It behooves us as a community to support that previous understanding of the law.”
When tasting rooms were legalized in 2014, many of Alaska’s distilleries, including Port Chilkoot, began selling craft cocktails. That became controversial earlier this year after a complaint was filed with the State, and alcohol regulators revisited what was allowed under the law.
They came to the conclusion that contrary to what most distilleries had been doing for the last three years, the law only allowed them to sell unadulterated liquor — though they could offer juice and other mixers separately.
Distillers have pushed back, with a statewide campaign to prevent the new rules from going forward. The message seemed to resonate in Haines.
“I think we’ve got to step up for business when we can. It’s hard in our environment, and this is one of the few things we can do that doesn’t cost us any money,” Assembly member Brenda Josephson said. “If it were a public safety concern, I’d feel otherwise. We’ve got to speak on behalf of business when we have the opportunity to.”
“One of the reasons that I want to do this is because manufacturing is one area of the economy we can all get behind,” he said. “Taking a raw product, and turning it into a finished product — it’s the highest level of the capitalist system we live under. The highest level of achievement.”
Port Chilkoot owner Heather Shade was happy to hear the Assembly’s response.
“You know the community has just shown overwhelming support for our little business, as we go through this issue, and we really appreciated the Assembly’s willingness to submit a letter reflecting that,” she said. “It made us feel warm about our community.”
If the new regulations do go through, Shade worries plans to grow her business will stop. She says she’d have to close the tasting room in the winter.
The Assembly’s comments will go to the Alcohol Beverage Control Board before it makes a final decision on the draft regulations in January.