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Legislators Address the Bloomery Sweetshine Distillery's Cry for Help

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Liz McCormick
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West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In the House Small Business Committee this week, House Bill 2385 was discussed. The bill has to do with brewer, resident brewer, and brewpub licensing and operations in the state.  The bill was introduced at the request of Governor Tomblin who noted the issue in his state of the state address last month.  The bill is finally receiving some legislative attention.

The bill was introduced to address the concerns of the eleven resident brewers in the state. Four of those brewers do not have brewpubs on their premises; this limits the amount of product sold to strictly on-site consumption or in kegs to bars and restaurants. This legislation would allow those four brewers that don’t have brewpubs a limited function to sell their product in a growler, or large jug, from the premises increasing the amount brewers can sell and increasing their revenue.

“The problem, as I understand it relates to canning, if you’re a small brewer, you may not have the capacity to afford a canning operation," said Dave Gilbert, counsel to the House Small Business Committee, "so if you want to market your wares, you’ve got to pretty much sell it like in kegs to establishments that can sell it, I guess by the drink, this would open it up for them to sell for off premises consumption from their premises.”

After more discussion and a few amendments to clear up some technicalities, the bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

In connection to breweries and other small businesses, earlier this week a popular distillery in the Eastern Panhandle that has attracted over 50,000 tourists to the state, closed its doors because of legislative issues.

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Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
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West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Bloomery Sweetshine Distillery in Jefferson County makes all of its products on-site, provides tastings, and sells its products directly from the premises. The organization, however, says it’s been misclassified since it opened in 2011 as a retail liquor store. The distillery owners say due to this misclassification, its cost them too much money and has been killing their business. They say they won't reopen again until this issue is addressed by legislators and the West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration.

Delegate Paul Espinosa, vice-chair of the House Small Business Committee, as well as Delegate Stephen Skinner, the minority chair of the same committee, both from Jefferson County, were concerned when they heard of the distillery’s closure.

“You know, obviously in a week when we heard some very good news from the panhandle with the announcement from Proctor & Gamble, while we’re very excited about that, you know we certainly are concerned anytime a small business indicates that perhaps they’re not going to continue operating in West Virginia," said Espinosa, "I do know that Delegate Skinner and I, and our colleagues; we have introduced legislation in the past to try to address some of the concerns that the Bloomery Plantation Distillery has, and we are working together along with Delegate Upson and others to introduce legislation this year that will address some of the issues they have, such as the ability to operate on Sundays. I think one of the bigger challenges we have is dealing with some of the tax concerns that the distillery has, and working with Delegate Skinner others to look at some legislation and talk with other groups that are involved.”

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Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
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West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Espinosa says the reason the tax issue is so complicated is because it would require a lot of reevaluating of the current tax structure not just for the Bloomery Sweetshine Distillery but for other retailers as well.

Delegate Skinner says he currently has two bills he’s eager to introduce. Delegate Espinosa is a supporter of both.

“The two bills specifically that we’re on together, one would deal with the Sunday issue. I mean, in various ways, they deal with being open on Sundays and able to operate a business on Sundays that deals with alcohol," Skinner said, "The other bill that we’re still discussing is dealing with the punitive nature of Bloomery selling from their premises, and the interaction between that and retail liquor stores. Right now, Bloomery Distillery has to pay a fee to a liquor store for the privilege of selling its own product, and the liquor store that receives that fee doesn’t even necessarily have to market the Bloomery’s product. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Nowhere else in the country do we see this, and if we want to have a flourishing distillery business, wineries in West Virginia, we have to eliminate that.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u87iO65SfX4

Delegate Espinosa says he’s hopeful the bill allowing distilleries and wineries to be open on Sundays will have a lot of support from both sides of the aisle, but he’s not sure there’s time this session to address the tax issue.

“I’m concerned that because of the short amount of time we have trying to address the tax issue is going to be more challenging than perhaps addressing the ability for those establishments to operate on Sundays. But we’re committed to doing everything we can, if possible, to address it this year,” Espinosa said.

Delegate Skinner says the issue, however, is not a partisan one.

“Oh I think that these issues are not partisan at all," Skinner said, "and especially because when we’re dealing with distilleries and wineries and breweries all across the state. And there’s nothing partisan about how we’ve been dealing with this, and working together we can find a solution.”


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