Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Artisan Craft Spirits and the Law

It is such an interesting time in the world of food and legislation. In the midst of all the fighting over farm subsidies and food stamps, the death of nature through GMO's and Bee Colony Collapse and so on, we are in need of something with a bit more levity during these days of partisan gridlock. We await something to remind us of the true nature of our democracy. Craft wine, beer and spirit people are the quintessential go to group to make our lives taste and feel better, and they are helping to not only brighten our days, they are actually making legislative observation more enjoyable.

One of the gifts of the recent economic downturn, is a plethora of new craft food and drink businesses. While most Americans are familiar with boutique wineries and craft breweries, their cousins from the Artisanal Spirit sector are creating new and delicious products to meet our increasing thirst for cocktails.  

My favorite commercial during the last presidential election was of James Carville and his wife......... (now whats her name...... that Republican pundit...... Mildred, Maud, some last name different from her husband..... sorry, the name escapes me) promoting the Cocktail Party. 

While the US Congress boasts a Wine Caucus, I think we need to start a Cocktail Caucus, at least people would be more civil and friendly in the halls of power. Who knows, more work might be accomplished under the influence of incredible organic spirits enhanced with hand crafted bitters.

Well who knew California would lag behind the nation in one of the hottest trends in the foodie scene? It does, mainly in the arena of allowing Craft Distilleries the right to let their customers taste their products in show rooms of their Distilleries, and to sell directly to the public. In order to promote their product, and do what any other food and drink purveyors do in the Sunshine State, a group of Craft Distillers banded together to form the California Artisanal Distillers Guild.

The Guild came together to educate the public and promote the marketing of their industry. The major stumbling block these Craft Distillers are facing is the California Prohibition (I never thought I would use those two words in the same sentence) on allowing Spirit Tasting Rooms and direct sales to the public from their production facilities. Under the guidance of Founding President Arthur Hartanian of Napa Valley Distillery, the Guild bill has been designed with the support of California Assembly Members Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland) and Isador Hall (D-Rancho Dominguez). The Guild brand name for AB 933 is, what else could it be: Taste California. 

At this time in the development of AB 933, Guild members are asking their customers to sign a petition and urge their California State Representatives to support the bill.

At first glance,  AB 933 just looks like delicious fun. But in our cash starved state that is just starting to see it's coffers fill so we have a deficit of only 4 billion instead of 15 billion, Taste California just makes.... forgive me.... pun coming.... cents. (OK now you can groan.) Across the state, and the nation for that matter, microbreweries and distilleries are actually being sought out by municipalities because they bring much needed revenue to their communities. Providing well paying jobs and tax revenues, while enhancing the local food scene creates economic benefit for all. Artisanal Distilleries are the closest thing to Alchemists that our modern world has to offer, and let me tell you, these people really live up to the name "Art" in Artisan. 

CADSP President Arthur Hartanian at his Napa Valley Distillery Vintage Bar Shop
 at the Oxbow Marketplace in Napa, California

I often joke with my fellow farmers and food purveyors; it is easier in terms of legislative restrictions to produce crack cocaine. The rules and regulations surrounding food can baffle the best and the brightest of lawyers, and confound those of us with well developed frontal cortexes. I personally think most of the legislation is put in place to price out the small producers. Thankfully, the California Lawmakers are waking up to the fact that when there are regulations that are small business friendly, those businesses thrive and put more money into the state. Small businesses in general and Artisanal Distilleries in particular,  do not pollute the land or oppress their workers like the big corporate employers in our state. In fact, many California Craft Distillers completely support sustainable practices, from their product to their buildings.

Napa Valley Distillery owner Arthur Hartanian has an award winning Meyer Lemon Liqueur. This liquid bliss is made with Organic Meyer Lemons. 

Hartanian has to brave winding mountain roads to get the gems that make is signature blend so unique. He also stills his Vodka from 100% Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (this grape is currently being nominated for a Slow Food International Ark of Taste USA product.) Hartanian takes local very seriously when it comes to his Spirits. The outcome is amazing, and knowing that such products enrich the local economy without destroying the land, makes people like me ecstatic.

Green Bar offers a full line of delicious organic spirits

The Green Bar Collective in Los Angeles is a model of sustainability when it comes to its products. Organic ingredients, recycled glass bottles, and their production plant in the newly formed Los Angeles Clean Tech Corridor make for a "green" business indeed. An innovative concept in urban development, the LA Clean Tech Corridor only accepts businesses that do not harm the environment. Green Bar hosts events at their site, and is awaiting the passage of AB 933 so they can conducts tastings of their signature products at their distillery show room.

Please contact your representative and urge them to pass AB 933 as soon as possible. The Artisanal Craft Distilleries have much to offer the State of California, from enhancing the pure joy of food and libations, to contributing to our economy in a model of sustainable enterprises. I hope to be invited to the celebration event when this passes, I hear there might be an incredible no-host bar!

Follow both of them on Facebook, AMAZING ideas and recipes.

To Find your California Representative click on to this site http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/

and finally, there is this incredible pintrist site that leads to all things Artisanal and Spirits, the pictures alone make you want to jump into a the cocktails

Who knew democracy could be so delicious!


  1. Hi Stephanie,

    Nice article on AB933 and challenges of Artisanal Distillers in the state of CA.

    It does need to be pointed out that AB933 is for tastings only and does NOT include direct sales. A point sorely needed by the Artisanal Distillers.

    James Carling
    Owner (and member of CADG)
    Ventura Limoncello Company
    Ventura, CA

  2. Point Well Taken! Hopefully this will be included in the final bill.