Commissioners approve expansion of Class D liquor license
CENTREVILLE — The Queen Anne’s County Commissioners unanimously passed a measure recommended by the local liquor board that would define and expand the abilities of what liquor distillers in the county can sell during the Tuesday, Jan. 24, meeting.
The Queen Anne’s County Board of License Commissioners, known as the liquor board, unanimously approved the measure after a public hearing was held.
The measure regarded a bill introduced in the Maryland General Assembly by Del. Steve Arentz that defines the use of a Class D Beer, Wine and Liquor and Class 9 Limited Distillery License in the county. House Bill 0047 states a holder of a Class 9 Limited Distillery License would be allowed to serve mixed drinks onsite using only liquor distilled on premise, as well as gives it the opportunity to sell its product for offsite consumption. The bill would only apply in Queen Anne’s County.
Though legislation was passed last year to allow the distribution of a Class D liquor license, it was passed as a local courtesy bill, allowing each jurisdiction to approve certain parts of the bill but nothing more than what was originally outlined.
Because House Bill 0047 is specific to Queen Anne’s County, hearings were held at the liquor board and county commission level so the Maryland General Assembly could have public input before taking action, County Administrator Gregg Todd said.
Jeffrey Thompson, attorney for the liquor board, told the commissioners the bill would allow the distilleries to “be able to expand and be given what amounts to a tavern license,” allowing them to serve drinks on site.
The annual license fee for a Class D liquor license is $1,800.
A State Class D license allows the sale of beer, wine and liquor for on-site consumption, but the commissioners voted to only allow the sale of product distilled on-site. Allowing the sale of beer and wine produced by a member of a Maryland Craft Producers Guild was discussed, but the commissioners did not approve that measure.
The amendment to allow local distillers the opportunity to sell other Maryland-made products was introduced by John Cook, founder of Blackwater Distilling. “The state level licenses essentially allows a holder of a Class 9 Distillery License to apply for a county level Class D Tavern License in order to allow that business to serve cocktails on-site, in addition to operate as a distillery,” he said.
The current county Class D license does not allow distillers the ability to sell mixed drinks.
In support of the legislation that was introduced allowing mixed drink sales “as the state level legislation was intended to cover,” Cook also wanted the ability to sell off-premise Maryland craft spirits, beers and wine.
The reasons Cook stated were for advocacy of a growing sector in the Maryland economy as well as provide the sale of Maryland-made alcohol “without having to leave the county.” He said that is usually an “underser ved part of the industry” in local liquor stores because many producers are selfdistributed, so availability can be hard to find.
Currently, the county only has two liquor distillers— Blackwater and White Tiger.
Itsara Ounnarath, owner of White Tiger Distillery, agreed with Cook and the proposed legislation. “As a small business trying to get start up, competing with the big industry, the bigger brands, we really don’t have any advantage,” Ounnarath said. He said the bill would help “a small guy to even the playing field” because it doesn’t have big distribution on its side.
Former County Commissioner Gene Ransom, who sits on the liquor board, said this bill was introduced for economic development purposes as it would allow the distillery to expand its sales. “These distillers are local small businesses, and this will help them grow their business,” Ransom said.
Because the bill has to be passed by the Maryland General Assembly, which is set to hear the matter at 1 p.m. Feb. 20 where the liquor board will testify on behalf of the county, simply passing the draft allowing only onpremise sales of products and mixed drinks, “there’s nothing that says the General Assembly couldn’t do something different, Ransom said.
Ransom suggested the most conservative measure would be to pass the bill as it was introduced so it could be heard in the 90-day open window of the state legislature. “What we’re really doing here is making a recommendation to Annapolis.”
If approved at the state level, the bill would be take effect on Oct. 1.
Follow Mike Davis on Twitter: @mike_kibaytimes.
Former Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Gene Ransom, who sits on the local liquor board, explains to the county commissioners House Bill 0047 during its Tuesday, Jan. 24, that would expand the abilities of local distillers.