Breweries push for sales after 8 p.m., entertainment on site
Even after a bill aimed at updating Alaska's alcohol laws was introduced during the last legislative session, some brewers are pushing back against restrictions that they say inhibit small business growth.
Under Alaska law, businesses with a brewery retail license - which costs $1,000 annually - cannot serve brewed beverages after 8 p.m. and cannot allow live entertainment, televisions or other recreational or gaming opportunities. The maximum amount of beer a brewery can sell to a customer for off-site consumption is about five gallons.
"I think the entertainment rule right now is probably the most impactful. That's the one that's been front and center, but the hours restrictions really tough on us," said Josh Hegna, co-founder of Girdwood Brewing Company. "That 8:00 closing time is very challenging down here in Girdwood when we have people coming from work and they get back to Girdwood by 6:30 or 7:00, have dinner. By that time brewery's closed."
Some breweries have worked around the restrictions of brewery retail license by obtaining a beverage dispensary license, which is the same license bars hold, or a brewpub license. Hegna says that option is not viable for Girdwood Brewing because it is not only out of line with the business model, but zoning restrictions in Girdwood wouldn't allow that business to operate at the brewery's location.
"We're basically being restricted right now to the point where they don't even want us to do fundraisers or have a beer tour. So we don't necessarily want to have TVs or have big bands here, but it'd be nice if it were our choice. It'd be cool to have a snowboard movie up occasionally," Hegna said.
Girdwood Brewing Company's production is a smaller scale than the two largest brewers in Alaska, Alaskan Brewing Company and Denali Brewing Co. Hegna says smaller craft breweries depend more on sales at their taproom, which makes the restriction on operating hours have greater impact.
"We are a taproom-focused brewery, so the majority of our sales come out of our taproom. It's a big part of us growing our brand, getting the message out there about what we're trying to do," Hegna said. "So it's critical. Without that taproom, we're not a sustainable business."
Earlier this year, Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) introduced SB 52 to update Alaska's alcohol laws. The bill was informed by the Title 4 Steering Committee, which consists of stakeholders representing the alcohol industry, public health, local government and other areas.
The conversation on activities allowed at breweries was further rekindled this summer when
that would restrict festivals, games and other social gatherings at breweries. Some bar owners spoke in support of restricting pour limits and hours at breweries.
While SB 52 could bring the most comprehensive updates to alcohol policy in decades, Hegna says the conversations in recent years have not been particularly helpful for growing a brewery business.
"It comes down to economy and community. Manufacturing has been declining for decades, and yet brewing is one of the shining stars in manufacturing. Just our business alone, we've been open less than three years. We started with just three of us and now we have 13 jobs," Hegna said.
He added that he is in favor of adapting laws to a drinking culture that has been rapidly shifting in the past few years.
"If we modernize these beer laws, we will create more jobs, we'll create more beer. We will unfortunately have to pay more taxes but that's good for the state. I think modernizing beer laws is also good for everybody."