Artisan Grain Distillery

Artisan Grain Distillery Silver Rum and unaged Corn Whiskey.

Kevin E. Schmidt, QUAD-CITY TIMES

Today's not your great-grandmother's booze culture. Nor should it be under her draconian regulation, either.

And that's precisely what Iowa Alcohol Beverage Division, IABD, and Iowa Economic Development Authority hope to achieve with proposed reforms that would rollback much of the state's Art Deco liquor laws. It's an especially timely move in a moment when American consumers are clamoring for unique and regional alcohol. 

As it stands, Iowa's regulations give preference to beer and wine producers. They hamstring distillers. They imbalance the market and, as designed, pick winners and losers.

The liquor industry in Iowa is uniquely singled-out. It's a burden no other sector bears.

But the market has changed, IABD Administrator Steve Larson correctly asserts. Alcohol, particularly the pricey small-batch variety, has won wide acceptance, regardless of proof. Laws limiting liquor distillers from selling in-house liquor by the glass is out of line with how brewers and wine makers are treated. Limits on annual production make growing liquor business into a national or international brand all but impossible.

In a very real sense, Iowa's laws have, for too long, been built on an anti-business foundation that's ignored the social, consumer-driven renaissance, focused on locally sourced, interesting product.

The legislation, now sitting in House and Senate committees, would lift all limits on production, officials said. As drafted, it would permit distillers, such as Mississippi River Distilling in LeClaire, to serve products by the glass. And the legislation would streamline Iowa's three-tier licensure system to the benefit of all producers of alcohol.

Wholesalers, in particular, aren't in love with eliminating the production cap on spirits, said Iowa Economic Development Director Debi Durham. But Durham, one of the reform's architects, correctly asserts that not doing so limits a distillery's ability to grow and sell its product nationally or even internationally. Opponents of eliminating the annual production limit have pitched maintaining the 50,000-gallon cap and discussed lifting it to 100,000 gallons. 

But Templeton Rye's planned return to Iowa shows the failings of such arbitrary standards. For years, Templeton has purchased its whisky from distillers in Indiana. Now, it hopes to invest $26 million into renewed operations in Templeton, Iowa. The economic plan only works, however, if 500,000 gallons are made each year.

Fifty-thousand gallons simply won't cut it.

There's a renewed interest in booze, particularly for something different and interesting. It's woven into a growing culture that, in some ways, rejects the mass-market that owned the the industry a decade ago. Microbreweries are a staple of the Quad-Cities economy. Entire communities in the West have been rebuilt by a rejuvenated wine culture. And, now, interest in craft whiskeys and vodkas is on the rise, trends show.

But, in large part, Iowa still treats distillers as if they're stewing swill in a bathtub. 

Those days are long over. So, too, are the days when distilleries should be regulated differently from everyone else. 

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, City Editor Dan Bowerman, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.