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New Alaska House proposal would cut off craft brewery customers at two drinks

Brett Marenco takes a sample of India pale ale to test for sugar content. He and his twin brother, Rory Marenc, opened Girdwood Brewing last year, and Rory says they’ve been “blindsided” by a new proposal in the Alaska Legislature to lower the daily cap on the number of beers they can sell to each customer. (Marc Lester / ADN)

JUNEAU — Alaska's microbreweries are trying to block a proposal in the Legislature that would stop them from serving customers more than two beers in a day — down from the current limit of three.

The proposal, Senate Bill 76, was approved by a House committee last week and has one more committee to negotiate before going to the floor for a vote.

The 113-page bill was originally aimed at modernizing Alaska's decades-old alcohol laws, including licensing, penalties for underage drinking and education and training for servers and consumers.

But as it has advanced through the Legislature, it's become embroiled in a fight between Alaska's bars, craft breweries and distilleries.

Those breweries and distilleries have been growing in popularity over the past several years, with busy spots in Anchorage like Midnight Sun Brewing Co., King Street Brewing and Resolution Brewing Co.

Owners of traditional bars say their businesses have suffered, with breweries and distilleries taking advantage of state law that allows them buy relatively inexpensive licenses to serve small amounts of their own beers and liquors.

At a meeting last week, members of the House Labor and Commerce Committee heard a torrent of testimony from owners of bars and liquor stores asking for tougher limits on their competitors. Republican Rep. Louise Stutes, who owned and managed a bar for 25 years in her hometown of Kodiak, then proposed an amendment to drop craft breweries' three-beer-a-day limit to two, or 36 ounces to 24.

The amendment, which was approved, also lowers the cap on the amount of liquor a person can buy from a craft distillery each day, to 2 ounces from 3 — or to slightly more than one drink from two.

The change, taking place late in the Legislature's annual session, "is kind of blindsiding us," said Rory Marenco, one of the founders of a year-old craft brewery in Girdwood.

"It would definitely hinder our business," he said in a phone interview Monday, adding that the brewery's taproom would probably not need all seven or eight of its employees if the legislation passes.

SB 76 still must clear the House Finance Committee before going to the floor for a vote by the full chamber.

Then, the Senate would have to sign off on the rewritten legislation, which has already been vetted by Senate committees, before it would go to Gov. Bill Walker for his signature or veto.

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