Australia Some independent craft brewers disappointed with Queensland's proposed changes to liquor laws
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The Queensland government is poised to amend liquor laws to create a new licence for craft brewers and small distillers, although the final product is not to everyone's taste.
The laws will create a new artisan liquor licence category, allow Queensland producers to sell each others' products on premises, and formalise pandemic relief measures for distillers — so they will be able to sell their products online.
The legislation will also allow holders to sell samples of their products at promotional events.
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Sharynne Wilson owns an award-winning craft brewery that recently expanded to a second premises on the Sunshine Coast.
Under the current regulations, she needs a restaurant licence to sell other beers, wines and spirits at the first location — and can only serve their beer to customers at the newer spot.
"You've got to try and keep up and pay the bills and keep the lights on, and if you're not able to get people in here for more than one drink at a time it's very hard to do that," she said.
"When a family goes out, or a group goes out, there might be one person who would rather drink a wine.
"If we can get them to come in, sit down, and have two drinks because somebody can drink a wine, then why not?"
She said the planned changes were a good stepping stone, but would prefer to be able to sell other makers' products takeaway too.
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"It would be nice to be able to operate as a cellar door for them and them to work as a cellar door for us," she said.
'De facto bottle shop'
This is one of the key issues the Independent Brewers Association (IBA) has with the legislation before Queensland Parliament.
The representative body has been in consultation with the state government for several years, with a broad recognition that Queensland's laws were burdensome for small, artisan businesses.
David Kitchen, who is on the IBA's board of directors, also owns a Brisbane craft brewery with premises in Salisbury, West End and Springfield Lakes.
He said an earlier version of the legislation would have allowed licensees to sell each other's products for takeaway — so at his brewery, he could sell not just his own six packs, but a bottle of local bourbon or a Queensland wine — giving them all more market access.
But then that provision was dumped.
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"The right for us to be able to do that was struck out when it was submitted to other stakeholders — that was because people were worried we'd become a de facto bottle shop," he said.
"Why can they drink it here but they can't walk home with it? But they can walk out my door, go straight into a bottle shop, and buy a different sort of product."
He said he believed the threat to other businesses would be infinitesimal.
"I would expect here, we'd sell one bottle, maybe two bottles, in an entire week of trade," he said.
Legal definition 'incredibly restrictive'
Under the new laws, licensees will also be able to sell their product at promotional events, but the IBA said the definition of a promotional event was "incredibly restrictive" — only listing trade shows and farmers' markets as examples.
"My local Chrome Street festival here [in Salisbury], which is a getting together of all the local businesses in this area, I can't go there under that permit and just put my stuff up, so I'm excluded," he said.
He said other craft breweries had looked at events like triathlons and expos, which also would not be allowed.
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"Can't do any of those — can't go to your local multicultural festival or your local music festival, because all of those are not under the promotional events definition — so we're asking, simply remove the definition."
Mr Kitchen said the final version of the bill was disappointing given the years of work, and the government rushed stakeholders to agree so they could introduce the legislation before the October 2020 election.
"The government has failed at the last step," Mr Kitchen said.
"We were basically forced into saying we'll take a half-effective set of legislation because otherwise we may get nothing … then the government introduced it on the very last day of Parliament, so there was no chance it could have been passed anyway."
Selling products online
The Australian Distillers Association, and its Queensland president, Gold Coast distiller David Ridden, have given the legislation a warmer reception.
"It will allow small business, small artisan producers across Queensland, to sell direct to the public with no restrictions and to be able to continue to sell online," Mr Ridden said.
"I think the brewers, though, have been a whole heap luckier than us distillers have in Queensland.
"They've been able to sell online, they've been able to sell takeaways — we haven't been able to do that."
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Distillers have been able to sell online during the COVID-19 pandemic, a relief measure for an industry hit hard.
"Before COVID, we had about five people on staff and a couple of part-timers — today we have 10 people on staff," Mr Ridden said.
He said he believed distilling in Queensland was where the wine sector was about 20 years ago.
"The state government's been very supportive … I think those little things that the brewers want to see this time around will come in the future," Mr Ridden said.
A parliamentary committee has recommended the legislation be passed.
The state government said an advisory group — including the IBA, the ADA, the Queensland Hotels Association and Clubs Queensland — will be established to advise on the implementation of the licence, and one of its first tasks will be developing guidance notes for promotional and public events.
The new licence will enable brewers to apply for a Commercial Public Event Permit to operate bars at other events, such as concerts.
Minister for Regional Development and Manufacturing Glenn Butcher said the new licence was around the quarter of the cost of a full hotel licence.
"That means the financial barriers of establishing a small craft brewery are significantly reduced," he said.
"If someone who holds an artisan liquor licence wishes to sell another brewers' product, there would be an additional cost of $1,088 a year — combined with an artisan liquor licence that's still significantly less than a full hotel licence."
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