Charlotte diners who want to celebrate North Carolina’s new rule allowing earlier sales of alcohol on Sundays have to wait until the City Council votes to allow it, which may take until the end of the month.
But for visitors to the state’s distilleries, which make liquor, the party has already started.
“I got the news 10 minutes after the governor signed it,” says Ollie Mulligan, the owner of Great Wagon Road Distilling. “It’s huge for us.”
While the so-called “brunch bill” allows alcohol sales as early as 10 a.m. on Sundays, some new provisions for distilleries also were in the bill. And those changes took effect immediately statewide.
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The biggest: Instead of allowing people who tour distilleries to buy only one bottle per person per year, now they can buy up to five bottles a year. That’s a big potential bump in on-site business – and a move that may make the state’s fast-growing distilling business, currently at about 40 distilleries statewide, grow even faster. Distillers also can now buy a permit that allows them to offer 1/4-ounce samples at festivals and events, also a big marketing tool.
“The announcement – I get chills just thinking about it,” says Robbie Delaney of Muddy River Distilling in Belmont. Delaney was actually leading a tour when they got the word that Gov. Roy Cooper had signed the new legislation. That meant the people on the tour could buy more bottles right then.
And they did, apparently. Less than a week after the bill was signed, Delaney said he’s already seen a big jump in what people are buying on his tours.
“It’s actually awesome,” he said. “I really didn’t have that much confidence people would buy five bottles given the opportunity. But man, when we told them they could buy five bottles a year, I didn’t realize how many people were from out of town,” and so are choosing to buy it all right then.
Distillers say they’re eager to expand hours in their tasting rooms and gift shops. Those are good marketing tools and help them develop customers who will then look for their products at state-run ABC stores. But capping visitors at a single bottle a year makes it hard to do that profitably, or to even break even. Before the new legislation passed, George Smith of Copper Barrel Distilling in North Wilkesboro said he was losing money on his gift shop and had to cut some jobs.
Now, distillers are already making plans to adjust to the higher bottle limit.
“We’ll probably get more help,” says Delaney. “It’s time to start opening for regular hours,” instead of just on weekends. “Anything we can do to make it easier for customers to buy our product is good for us.”
The majority of distilleries sales still will depend on the state-controlled ABC system and county-run ABC stores. ABC stores can decide not to carry a distillery’s products if they don’t sell well.
One thing Mulligan is really looking forward to, he said: Not getting chewed out by visitors who come for tours, then get belligerent when they can’t buy what they just tasted.
“I must have explained that law a thousand times,” he says.