The county council approved a new liquor license class Tuesday night allowing distilleries to offer mixed drinks containing liquor the business has produced.
Talbot’s new Distillery On-Premises License (Class K) stems from a state law passed last year allowing local liquor boards to establish and issue such licenses. The state law restricts annual sales in mixed drinks to 7,750 gallons of liquor produced by the distillery.
Members of the Talbot County Council debated two amendments that would have restricted the amount of liquor served to each guest to either six or eight ounces, the equivalent of four to five drinks of 80 proof liquor. A council majority rejected both before approving the bill as drafted.
Bill 1442, creating the new liquor license, was approved 4-1, with Councilwoman Laura Price casting the dissenting vote.
Before passage of the mixed drinks legislation, Maryland distilleries had been allowed to offer up to four half-ounce tastings of their product to patrons.
Price argued Tuesday for restrictions on the amount of alcohol served, noting most people would be impaired after consuming the equivalent of four or five drinks within a short period of time.
Price had offered two amendments at the Feb. 11 council meeting and introduced one, which would have limited the total volume sold per customer to six ounces total split among mixed drinks and half-ounce tastings. That amendment was voted down 4-1 on Tuesday night, with only Price in support.
Price’s second amendment, which would have limited the total volume to eight ounces — two ounces for tastings and six ounces for mixed drinks — was introduced Feb. 11 by Council Vice President Chuck Callahan and Councilman Frank Divilio. After a brief discussion Tuesday night about withdrawing the amendment, Callahan agreed with Price’s request to have it go to a vote. It was defeated 3-2, with Callahan, Divilio and Councilman Pete Lesher voting against the amendment and Price and Council President Corey Pack in favor.
Other council members noted that there had been no opposition to the bill as drafted. All those testifying Tuesday night spoke in favor of the bill, with many connected in some way to Lyon Distilling Company in St. Michaels, the only distillery in Talbot County.
Jaime Windon, Lyon’s CEO and founder and president of the Maryland Distillers Guild, said she helped craft the state legislation and urged passage of the bill as drafted, arguing that volumetric restrictions are arbitrary and unnecessary.
“It’s illegal for me to over-serve people,” Windon said. “We have absolutely no incentive to over-serve anyone who walks in our doors.”
“Our job is to showcase what we do, to highlight our brand, and to be responsible,” she said. “I need this legislation in its entirety to give me the flexibility to do what we do best, produce and serve and sell alcohol with a flawless record.”
Jessi Windon, Lyon’s sales manager, said the business had grown since its inception and created more than a dozen full-time jobs and numerous partnerships across Talbot County.
All Lyon Distilling employees are trained and certified, she said.
“We are looking to progress our business as our colleagues are doing the same across the state,” Jessi Windon said. “The federal government has entrusted us by licensing us to produce alcohol for the past seven years. We are merely asking that our county permits us to responsibly serve that alcohol to our customers.”
Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Distillers Guild, said other jurisdictions had incorporated the state law without additional local restrictions.
“The state law basically granted local jurisdictions, the liquor boards specifically, the authority to create this license, create a fee and then grant it,” Atticks said. “Talbot is different in that you do have the ability to draft your own alcohol code, which is unique to the state of Maryland.”
Councilman Lesher noted that he had not heard any opposition to the bill in written or spoken testimony.
“We are a tourism economy. This is something that will enhance that and I’m not unprepared to support this as part of being a business-friendly council here,” he said.
Councilman Divilio agreed, noting no phone calls or emails against the bill and citing Lyon’s “great track record.”
Council Vice President Callahan, participating by phone, said Windon had “put her reputation on the line.
“This person is here to do the right thing, set a standard,” he said.
But Price and Council President Pack argued the council had to look at the issue more broadly.
“This is not a reflection on Ms. Windon and Lyon Distilling,” Price said. “We have to consider the future.”
Price said the concept of tastings means that patrons will not be at the distillery for an extended period of time.
“Someone’s probably going to be in there less than an hour, ballpark, it’s a tasting,” she said. “I’m pretty sure that most people, when they’re done with that (drinks containing 6-8 ounces of liquor) … if you breathalyzed them or whatever, that they might be over the legal limit.”
Numerous websites with charts offering drinking guidelines suggest likely Blood Alcohol Concentrations per drink at certain weights for men and women. Those charts reflect standard “drinks” — 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of table wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor — and a general guideline that the body can get rid of one drink per hour.
However, numerous other factors affect BAC, including the proof of the alcohol being consumed, whether the person is eating, and the time period during which the drinking occurs.
Impairment begins after just one drink and driving skills may be affected as well, according to the charts. After four or five drinks in an hour, nearly all men and women, regardless of weight, would be legally intoxicated with BACs of 0.08 or higher, with some women triple and some men double that legal limit.
Public safety advocates urge that a person should not drive even after just one drink.