Legislation puts distilleries in better spirits

Michael Rasmussen, owner of Painted Stave Distilling.
Michael Rasmussen, owner of Painted Stave Distilling.

By Rana Fayez
DBT Staff Writer

Craft brewery and winery movements have been followed by beverage industry enthusiasts for years. But now, craft distilling is finally getting its fair share of Delaware’s attention.

When Painted Stave Distilling founder Michael Rasmussen began about three years ago, he set out to create a stand-alone distillery. However, alcohol regulation laws in the state were more partial to breweries than distilleries. So Rasmussen decided to leverage his experience in the legal world by working on a craft distilling bill to help his business.

It passed in spring of 2012 and helped operations immensely. He said he followed the legal footwork of what happened for wineries in the 90s and breweries in the 80s.

One issue that remains a problem is direct sales. Legally, Painted Stave can hold tastings but cannot sell its product at these tastings – a limitation that has stifled sales, said Rasmussen. He said that out-of-state customers were used to tasting products then purchasing them, but the current legislation includes an extra step for customers between tasting and purchasing – distributors.

There has been interest in bringing Delaware up to speed with the rest of the country’s alcoholic beverage laws, according to Assemblyman Peter Schwartzkopf. “Most of these laws were put into place years and years ago,” he told WDDE a little over a year ago.

Rasmussen also mentioned lack of access to capital. “The type of small business that we are, we will not be creating a lot of jobs,” he said. “Many of the economic vehicles that are available really target people who are going to be creating a number of jobs.”

“We have an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan and have been fortunate to build a relationship with a number of financial institutions that have understood our needs.”

Delaware Distilling Company in Rehoboth circumvented law restrictions by opening under the Brewery-Pub law, which allows brewery-pubs to distill non-malt beverages. But it also requires the distillery to open a restaurant and pub in conjunction with it distilling practices. 

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