Published in Food/Agribusiness

New law provides ‘parity’ for spirits producers, vendors to host festivals

BY Sunday, February 09, 2020 06:30pm

New laws aim to bring parity to the state’s alcoholic beverage sector. 

The bipartisan three-bill package of bills signed into law last week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allows qualified organizations to apply for a special license to host spirits tasting events such as a festival. 

Qualified organizations, including spirits vendors, small distillers and state-authorized distributors, can now hold up to six events annually. 

Previously, state law only allowed nonprofit organizations to apply for one-day licenses to sell beer, wine or spirits at an event. Other laws allow organizations to auction off donated wine and permit a groups such as the Michigan Brewers Guild to apply for up to six licenses annually to host beer festivals, such as the upcoming Winter Beer Fest on Feb. 22 at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park. 

The new law now extends similar opportunities to spirits vendors and small distillers. 

“Taken together, the bills would provide parity with beer and wine vendors,” according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis of the bills. 

The law also allows eligible organizations to accept displays for the events, buy discounted spirits and return unopened bottles for a refund. 

“All of these are available to special licensees hosting a beer and wine festival,” according to the House Fiscal Agency. “Industry members point to the growing popularity of products made by craft distillers. Just as beer and wine festivals can highlight Michigan breweries and wineries, making Michigan a destination for aficionados, so could festivals featuring Michigan’s craft distillers. The bills would enable small distillers to grow their market share, and benefit all vendors of spirits, while supporting Michigan’s economy and tourist industry similarly to what is in place for craft beer and wine producers.”

The bills passed by a wide margin in the state Legislature, with only two no votes from state Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, and state Rep. Phil Green, R-Millington. 

The Michigan Spirits Association and Michigan Festivals and Events Association testified in support of the bills, which were also supported by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, Michigan Licensed Beverage Association and Michigan Craft Distillers Association

The Michigan Brewers Guild and Michigan Retailers Association indicated a neutral position on the bills. 

In a statement, the Michigan Spirits Association, the state trade group for the vendors, suppliers, and distributors of distilled spirits, praised the passage of the new law, calling it a “win-win for Michigan, festivals and events, and the spirits industry.”

“The new laws are a step forward in putting the promotion of spirits closer to parity with the promotion of the beer and wine industry in the state, especially at the large number of festivals and events,” the organization said in a statement.

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