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Cultural trends, changes in law may result in more advertising of alcoholic beverages

        CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginians may see more advertising of alcoholic beverages this year because of cultural trends and changes in state law.

         In recent years beer and wine have become routinely available at many fairs, festivals and other special events. Some event names reflect this, such as:

         * The Blues, Brews & BBQ festivals at Snowshoe Mountain Resort and the University of Charleston;

         * The Rails and Ales Craft Beer Festival in Huntington;

         * The Mountaineer Brewfest in Wheeling; and

         * The West Virginia Craft Beer Week celebration, which features the Brew Skies Festival at Timberline Resort in Davis and other events around the state.

         West Virginia law regulating alcoholic beverages at fairs and festivals has not changed, said Gary “Gig” Robinson, spokesman for the state Alcohol Beverage Control Administration, or ABCA.

         The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been interpreted as giving the states absolute control over alcoholic beverages. In West Virginia, the ABCA is the agency that regulates the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcohol and alcoholic beverages. That’s why laws governing alcohol vary (for example, West Virginia got out of the retail liquor store business in 1990 but Virginia and Pennsylvania still have retail stores).

         Organizers of fairs and festivals in West Virginia may obtain a 10-day special event license to sell beer or wine or both. The cost is $250 for each.

         Robinson said the ABCA’s regulation of advertising focuses on the portion of state law that says the agency “shall prohibit advertising that encourages intemperance, induces minors to purchase, or tends to deceive or misrepresent.”

          This means fairs and festivals — as well as others with ABCA licenses — can advertise alcoholic beverages or products but must be careful how they do so.

         “We want to balance protecting the public but allowing people who can legitimately drink or purchase to do so,” Robinson said.

         Advertisements must therefore steer clear of slogans like “Drink ’til You Drown” or “Party ’til You Pee” and offers like “Ladies Drink Free,” because the ABCA views them as encouraging intemperance (excessive indulgence). Ads also must avoid using images such as cartoon characters that might attract under-age patrons.

         Although the laws affecting fairs and festivals haven’t changed, the Legislature has passed new laws easing some rules for brewers and distillers.

         The number of breweries — commonly referred to as the craft beer industry —  in West Virginia has increased in recent years. Lawmakers hope the changes they’ve made will help the sector grow even more, boosting tourism and economic development.

         The West Virginia Division of Tourism already has a web page advertising “11 Most Interesting WV Spirits & Brews.” Tourism Commissioner Amy Shuler-Goodwin recently said she believes the business has great potential to attract more visitors to the Mountain State.

         Chief among the changes in state law is the so-called “Growler Bill,” which became effective June 12. It allows licensed bars, brewpubs, restaurants and convenience stores to sell and refill 32-ounce and 64-ounce containers, known as “growlers,” for off-premise consumption.

         Almost 35 businesses have been approved to sell and fill growlers, Robinson said.

         Licensees can advertise growlers with or without prices. They can advertise a special price as long as the price reflects a markup of at least 7 percent, which is the minimum required by law, and the ad does not induce customers to drink or encourage intemperance.

         Distillers also have been affected by recent changes in the law.

         The most publicized changes were made as a result of an initiative led by the Bloomery Plantation Distillery in Jefferson County.

         Bloomery shut down its tasting room in February because of the high markup the state imposed on Bloomery’s own products. (Under state law, distillers must sell their products to the state and buy them back before they can sell the products to customers).

         Bloomery re-opened its tasting room in April after the Legislature reduced the mark-up the state charges on the liquor distillers sell on-site and reduced a tax distillers must pay retail liquor stores.

         In April The State Journal quoted John Foster, director of sales at Smooth Ambler Spirits in Maxwelton, Greenbrier County, as saying, “We look at this as an opportunity to take that money and reinvest it in our business,” including advertising. “We’re a proud West Virginia tourist attraction,” he said.

         The legislation also raised the production level allowable for mini-distilleries. One thing distillers didn’t get from the Legislature: Permission for Sunday sales.

         As of the end of May the West Virginia ABCA had issued 2,745 on-premise licenses, 2,191 off-premise licenses and about 1,500 non-retail licenses. Robinson said the various facets of the industry employ almost 40,000 people in the state.

         “They’re paying taxes and providing a needed service, whether it’s in the tourism industry or whatever the dimension is,” Robinson said. “It is a privilege. People have got to be kept safe. There is that balance.”

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