New Rules for Tastings at Tennessee Liquor Stores

New Rules for Tastings at Tennessee Liquor Stores

Toward the end of this year's legislative session, retail tastings were legalized for Tennessee package stores. The change surprised many and the law was also wide open about what retail stores could do at tastings.

ABC Regs for retail store tastings were inevitable. The ABC was proactive and held its first meeting with industry members last week, on August 17, 2011.

Many legal issues were discussed, including whether store employees had to hold server permits or complete LBD server training, could food be served, and were there limitations on how often and how long tastings could be offered. Retailers want clarification that they may have glassware, ice and mixers to be able to conduct tastings.

One store owner acknowledged the problem with leaving bottles out front for customers to taste at any time of the day, but wanted to be able to allow a potential purchaser of high end scotch to try the product without any time limitation. This issue may be one of the hardest to resolve.

The meeting identified a number of practical issues with retail store tastings, as well as one important political position. When food service was raised as part of tastings, wholesale representatives pointed to wine in grocery stores as a reason not to allow liquor stores to pair food with wine at tastings. This would allow grocers to say that liquor stores can pair wine with food, and why shouldn't we?

The tastings law prohibits wholesale participation in retail tastings, and the wholesaler representatives at the meeting expressed no interest in helping wineries and distilleries to pass free product to retailers for tastings.

This is a huge limitation - retailers have to purchase all product given away at tastings at the wholesale price.

The next step is a draft of regulations from the ABC and a second opportunity for industry to weigh in. We encourage interested retailers to follow this process closely. Tastings are a tremendous opportunity for stores that market to consumers.

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