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Va. distillers plan spirited showing at festivals after bills pass GA

Actor Dean Malissa, playing the part of the first US President, George Washington, makes a toast with George Washington Single Malt Whisky Distillers' Reserve Edition during a preview tasting of the first-ever Scottish-style single malt made at Washington's Distillery at Mount Vernon, Virginia, October 13, 2015. Using 18th century methods, three of Scotland's top distillers ground malted barley using George Washington's reconstructed, water-powered gristmill, which produced 10 gallons of whisky. The whisky was then aged for 3 years at Mount Vernon and bottles will be auctioned off for charity. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

RICHMOND, Va. — Makers of whiskey, vodka and other liquors from around the state can toast to lawmakers for helping them level the playing field with beer- and wine-selling peers.

Last week, Governor Terry McAuliffe formally signed two identical bills presented by the Virginia Distillers Association (VDA), which make it easier for Virginia distilleries to sell bottles at festivals and educational events.

Distilleries will be able to sell products at events that are “conducted for the purposes of featuring and educating the consuming public about spirits products,” per the bill’s language.

Proceeds from bottle sales of liquor would still go to the Virginia department of Alcohol Beverage Control.

Virginia Distiller Association

Virginia Distiller Association

Two big consumer events are already planned to celebrate the new legislation.

The first will be the Virginia Craft Spirits Showcase in Roanoke Virginia at the City Market Building on Saturday, September 16.

The second event will be the Coastal Virginia Spirits Classic in Hampton Roads this fall.

“Many Virginia spirits products are available only regionally in the state or even just at the distillery,” explained Mary Beth Williams of Williams Compliance.

Consumers will be able to taste products from multiple Virginia distilleries at these events, learn the story behind each product, and purchase products that might not be available at their local Virginia ABC store to take home and share with friends and family.

There are 45 licensed Virginia distilleries, with approximately eight more pending. The industry has pushed for policy, regulatory and statutory changes so that they can become more sustainable.

The VDA maintains that distillers contribute more to the state’s economy, through excise taxes and ABC’s markup, than their counterparts in the wine and beer industries. Wine and beer have been able to thrive through events, released regulation on food sales and cutting out the middle man in distribution.

While beer and wine can turn to numerous merchants to sell their products, growth in the spirits industry is proportional to limited space in ABC stores. Distilleries also maintain that their out-of-state sales are hurt if other control states (Maryland, Pennsylavia, North Carolina and West Virginia) look to the distiller’s performance in state ABC stores before making a purchasing decision.

One of the greatest costs for distillery store operations is that the distilleries buy their own product from the ABC to use for samples. The markup, according to the VDA is 69 percent.

The Virginia ABC has also been working with the VDA to increase access to state made products.

Restaurants and mixed-beverage licensees can now purchase Virginia spirits directly from Virginia distilleries. Additional initiatives such as a statewide discount on all Virginia spirits throughout September Virginia Spirits Month, and more are actively being developed for launch later this year by VA ABC and the VDA.