by Kellen Brent Pierce

Alaska’s Fun Police are back in the headlines, making their third annual welfare check on the state’s revelers to make sure this generation of drinkers are not enjoying ourselves in any new or exciting ways.

At the end of August, little more than a week ago, the Alcohol Beverage Control Board once again decided that people had been too free at local brewery and distillery tasting rooms this summer, and they proposed further restricting what little activity grown adults are currently allowed.

To clarify, this is a list that already forbids any form of entertainment — live or televised. That means no pool tables, darts, or any other kind of games. No dancing, either. Draconian rules that are necessary, per AMCO Director Erika McConnell, to enforce the idea that these establishments “are manufacturers, not retailers”. But it doesn’t stop with what’s on the walls.

In 2017, the ABC decided that Alaska’ distilleries would no longer be able to serve mixed cocktails that contained any ingredients not made in-house. In early 2018, they doubled down, interpreting the law to mean that if you, the tasting room customer, were to order a drink as simple as a gin and tonic, you’d be served the ingredients in two separate glasses to mix for yourself. In the wake of that decision, I spoke to board chairman and Anchorage Distillery owner Bob Klein, who told me that the language would soon be resolved to avoid such an absurd scenario. Only a few months later, it was.

Around that same time, the House Labor and Commerce Committee introduced legislation to cut the amount of alcohol you’d be able to drink at an Alaska brewery or distillery tasting room from three servings to two. The legislation, described as a balance between competing interests was written by Republican Senator Peter Micciche, who later withdrew it after he said it was “hijacked” by special interests. Although Micciche never elaborated on the special interests, it was widely believed to be the bar industry. It’s worth noting that two of the members of the House Labor and Commerce Committee were either current or former long-time bar owners.

And yet, despite the government’s best efforts, breweries and distilleries are thriving. While Alaskans are buying less alcohol overall, the data shows that what they are opting for is craft beer and spirits over mainstream brands. Not only was Alaska-made beer unscathed by the recession, but it took a 6% market share increase in the last 17 years, with over 30 new breweries in the last 12 years. This is naturally biting into bar profits statewide, and there is evidence that some bar owners are leaning on the government to coerce the market back in their favor. And why wouldn’t they? A liquor license can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, while a manufacturer’s license costs a fraction of that. I’m sure bar owners feel hosed by new businesses that appear to sidestep the hoops that bars have had to jump through over the years.

I’m no economist, but it would appear that instead of thumbing one scale to counterbalance the thumb on the other scale for fairness’ sake, a lighter touch all around could do some good.

However you feel about it, the proposed regulation is in a public comment period until October 4th.

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