Colorado cideries, distilleries say likely law change will open up drinkers’ options

Of Colorado’s 116 distilleries, only six are classified as “pubs” — that is, they are licensed to sell a wide array of booze with a restaurant or affiliated food truck on site.

But if SB21-270 passes this year — and with bipartisan sponsors, it should — the number of pubs will likely skyrocket, benefitting distillers and cideries.

“We believe that five years from now instead of four or five percent having pub licenses, we believe it’ll be more like 50%, maybe 70%,” said Stephen Gould, a board member for the Colorado Distillers Guild.

Cideries and distilleries can operate as pubs and restaurants now, but alcohol production limits for distillery pubs and wine and cider restaurants are too small for most producers to even consider.

For example, Stem Ciders, with locations in Denver and Lafayette, produces about 500,000 gallons per year, owner Eric Foster said. To qualify for the right to serve other types of alcohol like beer or spirits or booze from from out-of-state, Stem would need to produce no more than 250,000 gallons of cider per year.

This year’s bill proposes to raise the limit to nearly a million gallons for wineries and cideries. For distilleries, the limit would be raised from 45,000 liters per year to 875,000 liters per year.

“Right now, there just aren’t strong, functioning licenses with the caps they have,” said Foster, who is also president of the Colorado Cider Guild. “What this bill allows us to do is change over our retail experience, to really change the on-premise experience.”

Balancing the interests of alcohol manufacturers, retailers, consumers and others is a tricky game for lawmakers, but lawmakers say SB21-270 has broad support because no one stands to lose anything. The Senate voted 34-0 in favor, and the House should take it up soon.

“The least contentious alcohol bill in the history of Colorado,” said Gould, who is also the founder and master distiller at Golden Moon Distillery in Golden.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Bridges from Greenwood Village is sponsoring the bill with another Democrat and two Republicans, and said it fixes an inequity.

“In so many ways, we hamstring anything related to alcohol because we have so many hangovers related to prohibition that I am slowly working my way through,” said Bridges, who is also sponsoring a bill to let restaurants continue serving to-go alcohol after the pandemic.

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