New law allows craft distilleries to skip distributors, sell limited amount of product to bars

Similar to small breweries and winemakers, Illinois' craft distilleries are now allowed to sell a limited amount of products directly to bars, restaurants and retailers under a law that was sparked by a suburban state senator.

Under the measure signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and effective immediately, distilleries producing up to 50,000 gallons of spirits annually can bypass liquor distributors and sell and deliver a maximum of 5,000 gallons. The law also allows "still pubs" to sell the booze made in-house and other alcoholic beverages, similar to how breweries can sell wine.

State Sen. Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods said the idea to let small hard-liquor producers have limited self-distribution surfaced about three years ago in a meeting he had with the owners of Copper Fiddle Distillery in Lake Zurich. He said Monday that Copper Fiddle was without a distributor for about three months in 2018 and unable to get its product to a wider audience.

Proponents said they wanted the distilleries to be on par with the craft breweries and wineries that have been able to skip the distributors and sell limited amounts of products directly to the bars, eateries and other places to help build brand recognition and consumer loyalty.

In pushing for the law, Copper Fiddle co-owner Fred Robinson spoke about how a bar across the street sometimes requested delivery of a few extra bottles of whiskey, rum or gin, but the state had prevented his business from filling the small order without a distributor.

"This new law is a very welcome, overdue change that puts craft distilleries in Illinois at parity with microbreweries and wineries," Robinson said. "It gives the newer, small craft distilleries the ability to compete and establish a brand on their own without relying on the wholesaler to move the product at the wholesaler's pace."

Not all small distilleries were on board with amending the state's 85-year-old liquor control act to allow the limited self-distribution.

Paul Hletko, founder of Few Spirits in Evanston, said Illinois' three-tiered system of producers, liquor distributors and retail establishments works well. He said the self-delivery option could lead craft distillers to work against each other.

McConchie said the small distilleries would prefer to grow and produce more than 50,000 gallons of spirits annually, thus being required to use a distributor.

Suburban lawmaker, distillery push law to bypass liquor distributors

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