N.C. distilleries can soon sell bottles to customers

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Visitors to North Carolina distilleries will be able to take home more than memories starting Oct. 1.

Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday signed into law a bill that lets distilleries sell one bottle of their alcohol to an individual customer once per year. Previously, the products were only available at the state’s ABC stores.

It’s a change that supporters say will give distilleries a marketing and revenue boost, while not hurting revenue to the state’s ABC system.

“We’re definitely pretty stoked,” said Robbie Delaney, owner of Belmont’s Muddy River Distillery, the state’s first rum distillery since Prohibition. “It’s a big deal. … It’s definitely going to change how we do business.”

The biggest change at Muddy River looks to be expanded hours for tours of the facility. Now, tours are by appointment only. But with the passage of HB 909, it makes sense to have regularly scheduled tours during the week, Delaney said.

And that will be huge, he said, because he estimates that more than half of the visitors will buy a bottle of alcohol before leaving.

“That would be a pretty good hit every week,” Delaney said.

Now, visitors are often surprised to learn they can’t buy any alcohol on site, with Delaney and his wife, Caroline, left to explain the nuances of the state’s current law. “It’s a little bit embarrassing,” Delaney said.

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The new law requires that distilleries keep electronic records of customers’ name, date of birth and driver’s license number to ensure the once-per-year limit isn’t violated.

Muddy River produces about 300 bottles of its rum per day on average. Delaney estimates that selling products on site will mean a modest bump in revenue – about 5 percent. But that should be enough to hire more staff, he said.

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The positive effect on distilleries was a big reason supporters fought for HB 909, which also bans the sale of powdered alcohol, creates permits for selling antique liquor at least 20 years old, and allows the sale of alcoholic cider and unfortified wine in growlers for off-site consumption.

“We heard from business owner after business owner across the state about ABC provisions that were impeding company progress,” House Majority Leader Mike Hager, a Rutherford County Republican, said in a statement, according to The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

Though happy for the increased marketing and revenue potential, Delaney said the trick will be to not sell so much that it hurts the state’s ABC stores. The ABC system has been good to Delaney and others, he said.

“We’ve got to be sure not to bite the hand that feeds us,” he said.

Muddy River plans to throw a party sometime around Oct. 1 to celebrate the change in the law, the Delaneys said.

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Jason Foster
| @ByJasonFoster |
Charlotte native and longtime journalist whose work has also appeared in print and online for news outlets including SportingNews.com, The Charlotte Observer and The (Raleigh) News & Observer.