Monday, January 12, 2009

Northwest Absinthe / Washington Alcohol Law

Since we are in all probability moving back to Washington in a few months I've been paying more attention to Washington's own alcohol laws and general goings on.

First: there's a new microdistillery in Woodinville, (conveniently located near my in-laws!), called Pacific Distillery LLC. They are in the process of producing their first commercial batches, gaining label approval and approaching the WA Liquor Control Board for distribution. The man behind the works is Marc Bernhard, an herb farmer turned distiller. He's starting off with a flagship gin ("Voyager Dry Gin") and...get ready Washington, an Absinthe! Called 'Absinthe Pacifique', Pacific Distillery uses medical grade ethanol which they infuse with high quality herbs to make their absinthe. This is big news because until recently Washington has made it very difficult to open a distillery, I believe Pacific is the second opened since Prohibition ended! (The first being Spokane's Dry Fly Distilling, who have only been around about two years themselves and who have a cool distiller's class they teach out of their distillery)

Their blog is here and there's an article on them in the Seattle Weekly here. Marc mentioned that he uses actual Artemisia Absinthium (Grand Wormwood) as well as Artemisia Pontica (Roman Wormwood) so I'm wondering whether he had trouble with the TTB or FDA on that one. I know many of the recent commercially available absinthes have had altered recipes to cut down on the Artemisia Absinthium (and therefore the thujone content).

Second: I bet that part of the reason that Pacific was able to open was Washington's new Craft Distiller's License. The licenses began June of last year, after SHB 2959 was passed, which amended RCW 66.24.140, and adds a new section RCW 66.24. The new license applies to distilleries producing less than 20,000 gallons a year, and at least 50% of whose ingredients come from within Washington state. The license costs only $100, while the normal distiller's license is $2000. This should raise eyebrows to those familiar with dormant commerce clause issues in alcohol law, as the state seems to be doing a similar sort of thing the Supreme Court shot down in Bacchus Imports, LTD. v. Dias, 468 U. S. 263 (1984), while at the same time giving the sorts of breaks to in-state producers that led to Granholm v. Heald, 544 U.S. 460 (2005). I haven't the time to write too deeply about it now, but I will in the near future.

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The Twentyfirst Amendment Meets the 21st Century by Russell Hews Everett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. The opinions expressed on this page are purely my own, and should not be taken to constitute legal representation or advice.