EL DORADO HILLS —
Chances are you’re familiar with California’s wine industry. You’ve maybe even heard of the craft beer movement. But it’s a lot less likely that you know about California craft liquor.
A law just signed by Governor Jerry Brown may change that.
Lately, Cris Steller and Gordon Helm have been crafting more than artisanal whiskey, bourbon and vodka at their Dry Diggings Distillery in El Dorado Hills. They’ve been helping to craft laws, or at least change them; prohibition era laws that make things in their tasting room a little, well, weird.
“We couldn’t sell,” said Steller. “So it was kind of a tease. You would come in, try something, and I would have to tell you ‘well, you’d have to go somewhere else,’ and technically, I can’t even tell you where to go buy it.'”
Weirder still, that rule only applies to Californians. Someone from out of state, standing at the same bar, who wants to buy the same bottle, is allowed to.
But no one in the tasting room is allowed to mix the spirits with anything. Even ice.
After some hard lobbying, Steller got the legislature to pass and the governor signed AB 1295.
It’s a bill that allows tasting rooms to sell a small volume of spirits, hold special events, hold a majority interest in a handful of restaurants, and lets tasters experiment with mixed drinks.
“Pretty much every vote we went through was a unanimous, positive, vote. We wound up with much more than we asked for. But it also took us to where we’re very competitive. Our governor likes California business to be very competitive,” Steller said.
Right now, Steller says California has more restrictive rules for his business than all but two other states.