The Thirsty Beagle: ABLE Commission interpretation may derail key element of SB 424

Sunday, July 24, 2016

ABLE Commission interpretation may derail key element of SB 424

That sound you don't hear right now is every craft brewer and every brewer-in-planning holding their breath following news that the ABLE Commission is eyeing a potentially devastating interpretation on Senate Bill 424.

SB 424 was passed at the end of the legislative session in May and is set to go into effect on Aug. 25. It would allow Oklahoma's brewers to sell bottles, cans and growlers of their full-strength beer for off-premise consumption, and also -- this is the key element -- to sell their full-strength beer by the glass for consumption on the brewery premises.

Word came out this weekend that the ABLE Commission has proposed an interpretation on the bill that suggests only sales for off-premise consumption will be allowed.

Several sources told me this weekend that a meeting is scheduled Monday between representatives from the ABLE Commission and the Craft Brewers Association of Oklahoma. They are expected to discuss ABLE's concerns with the wording of the bill.

Naturally, an interpretation that prohibits on-premise consumption would be devastating to the state's craft brewers and might also prove to stifle millions of dollars in development. There are several breweries-in-planning that are building their business plans based on their understanding of SB 424.

The problem is that the bill is not explicit when it comes to on- versus off-premise consumption. Here is the portion of the bill as it relates to this conversation:

"A brewer license shall authorize the holder thereof: ... to sell beer produced by the licensee to consumers twenty-one (21) years of age or older on the premises of the brewery;"

There's also this:

"Samples and sales may only be distributed or consumed between 10:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. Samples and sales of beer made or served by a brewery under this section shall not be considered a 'sale' of beer within the meaning of Article XXVIII of the Oklahoma Constitution or Section 506 of this title; however, such samples and sales of beer shall be considered beer removed or withdrawn from the brewery for 'use or consumption' within the meaning of Section 542 of this title for excise tax determination and reporting requirements."

As you can see, there is no distinction made concerning where the beer that is sold can be consumed; although in my view, saying "...sales may only be distributed or consumed between 10:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m." suggests the concept of on-premise consumption. After all, you can't regulate when people consume beer when they're sitting at their house, right? Seems to be a clear regulation of on-premise consumption.

My opinion, however, is not the one that really counts. Does ABLE have the grounds to essentially put its spin on the language of the bill?

We should know more tomorrow.

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