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Brewery regulation changes take effect with new year

Sabine Poux
Kenai River Brewing is one of the Alaska alcohol businesses that will be impacted by the change.

When the new year rang in on Monday, so did substantial changes to the licensing and regulation of Alaska’s breweries.

Passed in 2022, Senate Bill 9 was the effort of former senate president and current Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche. He spent 10 years working on the overhaul of Alaska’s alcohol industry regulations, which finally went into effect with the start of 2024.

“It’s going to loosen things up, I think, which is going to be good,” said Bill Howell, a local beer enthusiast who has authored four books about craft brewing, hosts a radio show about Alaska beer and has even taught a beer appreciation course at Kenai Peninsula College. “We’ve always had a very restrictive scheme in this state. As I say, it’s Alaska’s love-hate relationship with alcohol.”

Howell said the new regulations are an important step forward, although a lot of it is inside baseball.

“There’s a lot that’s in this that, for the average consumer, is going to be completely invisible,” he said.

On the consumer end, Howell said, there are a couple of important changes. The most obvious? Until Jan. 1, breweries couldn’t serve alcohol after 8 p.m. Now they can pour until 9.

Some breweries, like Devil’s Club in Juneau or HooDoo in Fairbanks, have already announced extended hours, though Howell said most Kenai-area locations are waiting until the summer to stay open later.

The new year has also ushered in new event opportunities for breweries. Under previous regulations, taprooms were barred from holding live entertainment events. Now, they’ll be able to host up to four a year, although other restrictions on TVs, pool tables, games and dancing will remain. A limit on serving sizes will also stay.

Breweries will also now be able to sell their products direct to consumers.

“So that’ll be an advantage for people. Like, if I want to sample beers from Fairbanks or Juneau or something like that, to be able to get them sent here without having to travel there to get them,” he said.

Behind the scenes, Howell said, cleaned up regulations and new licensing policies are a big step forward for brewery operators. For one, breweries that have a taproom and a kitchen will now be able to apply for a Restaurant or Eating Place license.

“So now their taproom will be treated like a restaurant, as opposed to a brewery taproom. And that means several things,” he said.

The catch is that now, those taproom-restaurants will have to derive half of its sales from food. But the advantage is, they can operate without taproom restrictions, like short hours and serving size limitations. They could also sell wine, cider or beer from other breweries, which isn’t allowed at taprooms.

One local taproom that could benefit from that change is Kenai River Brewing Company. Owner Doug Hogue has been eying the opportunity since the bill passed, and said in a 2022 interview that he was excited for the staff expansion opportunities.

And for breweries currently operating with a brewpub license, Howell said the new regulations still have advantages. The brewpub license has been dissolved with the new year, but that style of business — like St. Elias Brewing Company in Soldotna — will now be allowed to distribute their beer, which was previously prohibited.

“So if they wanted to keg their beer, and get a distributor, or self-distribute and have it on tap around town, that would be legal for them,” he said. “If they wanted to have their cans on sale at Oaken Keg or Freddy’s or wherever, that would be legal for them to do.”

Howell said he still sees room for improvement in the state’s regulation of alcohol. But for now, he said, the changes will make for a more consumer friendly experience, from beer fanatics like himself to those who enjoy a casual pint.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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