Lawmakers visit Chapel Hill distillery to praise new liquor law

Gunn tasting at TOPO RALEIGH — A group of lawmakers representing mostly rural districts met at Chapel Hill’s TOPO Organic Spirits to praise a new law that will allow North Carolina distilleries to sell bottles of their own spirits on premises, calling the legislation a job creator for their districts.

House Reps. Mile Hager (R-Rutherford), John Bell (R-Wayne), Brian Brown (R-Pitt) and Sen. Rick Gunn (R-Alamance) said that the bill will help an emerging market in the state. House Bill 909 passed the Senate 40-7 and the House 79-32, gaining bipartisan support in both chambers, and was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday.

“These are entrepreneurs. They’re visionaries,” said Gunn. “They’ve taken their resources, their time, and their talent and resources and they have put it on the line.”

Many at the event likened the prospects for craft spirits to North Carolina’s wine and craft beer industries.

“I’ve seen a study that says that nationally, the craft spirits industry is 7-10 years behind the craft beer industry,” said Melissa Katrincic of Durham Distillery.

“We’re allowing this little niche to grow, we think, a lot of jobs” said Hager, who is House majority leader.

 Hager added that the bill also helped wine and beer makers. But he said he does not see an appetite to change the state’s restricted-sale ABC system for liquor.

Even Scott Maitland, owner of TOPO and Top of the Hill brewery, also in Chapel Hill, said he does not think the state needs to privatize the ABC system, saying that there are “pluses and minuses” to the system.

For everyone at the distillery, the bill’s help to new businesses was captured in one word: jobs.

“Everyone talks about the big home runs,” said Brown. “And those things are wonderful. But small business is what drives this state and what drives this country.”