Topeka — Some Kansas liquor store owners are hoping the Legislature makes it legal for them to hold tastings in which customers can sample certain products before buying them.
A measure introduced in the state Senate by several liquor marketing associations is the result of a controversy that emerged after retailers started arranging tastings near their liquor stores.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that because state law blocked consumption of alcoholic beverages inside stores, proprietors staged events nearby. That stopped after representatives of the Kansas Department of Revenue issued a policy memorandum in August declaring that the agency’s interpretation of state law prohibited samplings, whether free or not, “in, on, or about the licensed premises.”
The Senate measure would allow retailers to host in-store tastings for people interested in trying unfamiliar beers, wines or distilled spirits.
“We’ve talked about it,” said Shawn McKeever, a liquor store clerk at Fleming Place Wine and Spirits in Topeka. “We sell a lot of craft beer.”
Regulators concluded no tastings would be authorized for party or smoke shops, parking lots, sidewalks or alleys adjacent to liquor store property.
R.E. “Tuck” Duncan, a Statehouse lobbyist working with organizations seeking to get the bill passed, said the intent was to establish in state law the opportunity for liquor stores to host tastings similar to those well known to wine country enthusiasts.
A Senate hearing on the bill is likely in a few weeks, and Duncan said the measure hasn’t sparked an outpouring of criticism.
“The prospects are very good, but being a liquor bill, I’m cautiously optimistic,” Duncan said.
Individual portions for tastings would be limited to one-half ounce for distilled spirits, one ounce for wine and two ounces for beer or malt beverage.
Chairmen of the House and Senate committees likely to handle the bill indicated they are not troubled by its concept.
Salina Republican Sen. Pete Brungardt, chairman of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, said the principle has been used at farm wineries in Kansas that legally provided samples, and retail liquor stores should reasonably be able to market their products in the same manner.
Rep. Steve Brunk, a Wichita Republican who is chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, said he was familiar with Macadoodles establishments in southern Missouri, where in-store tastings and a “Wine 101” course for novices are offered.
“We’re not breaking new ground,” he said. “It’s already being done in other states.”
Alcoholic Beverage Control director Doug Jorgensen, who is a former special agent with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, said his agency is neutral on the measure.