City Lawmakers: Inspirit Craft Distilleries On Par With Beer And Wine

The craft brewery industry, thanks to state legislation, has enjoyed meteoric growth in Connecticut joining state wineries as major consumer destinations. Bridgeport’s East Side is home to Asylum Distillery, the city’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition, that produces gin, vodka and whiskey from corn grown in Connecticut. As noted in an OIB story last year Asylum Distillery’s Bridgeport-made product is available in liquor stores and restaurants throughout the area. You can taste product on site but archaic state law prohibits mixing a full glass drink for consumption, something afforded breweries and wineries. Bridgeport’s state legislative delegation is lobbying for a law that places distilleries on par. Asylum Distillery wants to add another location Downtown.

Mayor Joe Ganim and all eight members of the city’s legislative delegation submitted the following letter to the General Assembly’s General Law Committee that highlights the economic benefits of modernizing craft distilleries. The state legislature opened its session on Wednesday.

As the legislative delegation and Mayor from the city of Bridgeport, we respectfully ask that you consider raising as a concept legislation that would permit craft distilleries in Connecticut to sell the spirits they produce on site by the glass. Enacting this legislation would put craft distilleries on par with craft breweries and wineries in Connecticut, and could lead to significant economic growth.

In the last few years since the Connecticut General Assembly liberalized laws pertaining to the sale of beer and wine at the site of production, our state’s craft brewery and winery industry has grown significantly, attracting tourists and creating jobs. As an example, there were just 16 craft breweries in Connecticut in 2011. Today, there are nearly 60 all over the state and Connecticut has become known nationally as a destination for the growing number of tourists searching for the home-grown, fresh taste of locally crafted beer. Similarly, there are now nearly 40 local craft wineries in Connecticut, making the Connecticut Wine Trail a regular journey destination for tourists from around the region and the country. Similarly, a Connecticut ‘Spirits Trail’ was recently established for tourists to visit the dozen or so craft distilleries here.

With all of this industry growth, laws regarding craft distilleries have not yet been updated. In addition to the demand for locally produced wine and beer, so too is the demand growing nationally for regionally distilled spirits sourced from local grains such as corn, wheat, rye, barley and other agricultural crops. Connecticut is in prime position to take advantage of this growing market trend. The small number of craft distilleries in Connecticut produce high-quality gins, vodkas, bourbons, rums, and eaus de vie, bottling and distributing these spirits locally. Laws permit distillers to provide small tasting samples of their spirits on the site of the distillery. In 2015, the General Assembly expanded this, enacting Senate Bill No. 386 allowing distillers to sell sealed bottles of their spirits onsite. However, our laws need further evolution and the time has come to make that change so this industry can expand further. Due to an anachronism in our law, Connecticut’s home-grown distillers are still barred from selling their top of the line spirits by the glass to any customers on-site. Customers can visit farm wineries and craft breweries and purchase products by the glass, but distilleries cannot sell by the glass, they can only sell bottles to be consumed off premise.

One such company–Asylum Distillery in Bridgeport–is producing the first locally distilled spirits in our city in nearly a century, since before the days of prohibition. All of the spirits distilled by Asylum are derived from Connecticut grown agricultural products, as that is in the core of their mission. Asylum has succeeded so much since opening two years ago that they have informed our city Department of Planning and Economic Development that they would like to expand to a second facility in downtown Bridgeport. This would be a “destination distillery,” where customers could both tour the distillery and purchase spirits by the bottle or by the glass, and stay awhile to enjoy the atmosphere. Perhaps an on-site restaurant could also one day develop at the site. The presence of such an attraction could give significant momentum to the current economic revival in downtown Bridgeport and support other local businesses as well. Because of our current state laws, however, Asylum cannot make this expansion. It is time for the law regarding sales of spirits produced by Connecticut craft distillers to catch up to those regulating sales at craft breweries and wineries

In 2014, New York State enacted similar reforms to its laws regarding sales of locally distilled liquor, and has seen exponential growth in the craft distillery industry. Since enacting changes in state law, the number of craft distilleries in NY State has nearly doubled–from 89 craft distilleries in 2014 to 150 as of January 2018. The industry is growing and healthy, contributing both state and local tax revenues, boosting local farming and other related industries, and creating sustainable jobs.

By amending laws in Connecticut, we could also become known nationwide for our craft distilleries as we have become known for our craft breweries and wineries. A similar concept addressing this potential economic expansion in Connecticut was raised in your committee in 2017, contained in House Bill No. 6049 “AN ACT ALLOWING ALCOHOLIC LIQUOR DISTILLERIES TO SERVE FULL-SIZED COCKTAILS AND MIXED DRINKS AT RETAIL.” We humbly ask that you consider raising a similar concept during the upcoming legislative session in 2018 that will open the doors of this growing industry to expand even further, generate significant revenue for our state and municipalities, and put Connecticut on the national map for craft distilleries. We look forward to discussing this concept with you and your committee further.

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