Legislators take the Utah minibottle decision away from DABS board

House and Senate leaders told commissioners it’s a ‘major alcohol policy issue,’ which the Legislature should vote on.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune ) Utah's liquor commission has shut down plans to allow sales of minibottles, after being told by legislative leaders that it's "a major alcohol policy issue" — and, for that reason, is a decision to be made by the Utah Legislature.

Utah’s liquor commission, which has been considering making minibottles of alcohol legal again, are putting their plans on hold — after talking to legislators who say it should be their decision, not the board’s.

Juliette Tennert, chair of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services’ commission, said Tuesday that she and commissioner Tara Thue recently met with two legislative leaders — Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson — who said that minibottles are “a major alcohol policy issue,” and, as such, something the Legislature should examine.

The commission, which held its final meeting of 2022 on Tuesday, started looking at the rules governing minibottles — which hold 50 milliliters (about 1.75 ounces) of spirits — back in July.

Thue noted that when she volunteered to work a shift at a state liquor store last year, many customers were asking for smaller bottles to use in recipes, rather than to drink. Thue also said Utah is the only state in the union that does not sell minibottles.

When the board took public comments at its October meeting, some of the people who made public comments cited studies that, Thue said, were not relevant. “I called it out in the public hearing,” she said. “If you’re going to be citing things to this commission, you need to back up your comments with facts.”

The commission opened up the minibottle rule to a 30-day period for public comment. In that time, the board received 491 comments — 324 in support of minibottles, 157 opposed.

Tennert, while saying the board supports the Legislature’s point of view, acknowledged the hard work the DABS staff and commission had put in over the last six months.

A bar license for Moab’s Proper Brewing

Also on Tuesday, the DABS commission granted a full bar license to Moab’s Proper Brewing Co. — but not before a long discussion about whether to give out a license at all this month.

At issue was whether some applicants for a bar license would be ready to open immediately, or whether the license would sit unused while a bar was still undergoing construction.

“We’re ready to use our license immediately,” said Tim Dwyer, co-owner of Fisher Brewing Co. in Salt Lake City, which has a tavern license but has been hoping for months to upgrade to a full bar license.

“Our infrastructure is in place, and we’d be ready to serve this holiday season,” Dwyer said, citing the customer demand for Fisher’s high-point beer, and listing other drinks the brewery is developing.

Tim Ryan, owner of Bout Time Pub and Grub, said that at the company’s Bluffdale location, “we’re so close. … If the meeting schedule hadn’t been pushed back, we’d be here to say that we were ready to open.”

Bluffdale, Ryan said, has never had a bar with a full liquor license — and is a fast-growing and underserved location.

Andrew Tendick, co-owner of Proper Brewing, told the commission it was important for the company to open its Moab location because it’s in a rural area — and that they would be ready to open next week.

“There’s a lot of excitement about us opening down in Moab,” Tendick said. He noted that there were no inspections pending at the location, and the business license was in order.

Commissioner Jacquelyn Orton argued in favor of Fisher Brewery getting the bar license — the only one available this month — because it’s open as a tavern, and would be able to use the bar license immediately.

“I don’t like having licenses sitting on the table waiting, especially during the busiest time of the year,” Orton said. Fisher, she said, would be able to serve champagne and wine, and host special events, if it had a bar license. “We ought to be putting our licenses to work,” Orton said.

Commissioner Thomas Jacobsen disagreed, saying Fisher and Bout Time’s Bluffdale location were both still dealing with construction issues — though Bout Time was only a week away from being ready. “We don’t have that issue with Proper, as they are ready to go,” Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen initially proposed postponing a decision to a special meeting in early January, when the board could examine four applicants — Fisher, Proper, Bout Time and Salt Lake City’s West Side Tavern. Proper and Bout Time could be given tavern licenses as a temporary measure, Jacobsen said. No one seconded Jacobsen’s motion for that proposal.

After Jacobsen and Orton said they had concerns that Proper didn’t have a full staff, Tendick assured them that he has employees ready to come on board as soon as the license is secured. “Our timeline of being able to be open by New Year’s Eve is our goal,” he said. “As part of our opening, we have staff [in Salt Lake City] who are going to be in Moab to assist with opening, even for the first few months.”

That assurance from Tendick was enough to change Orton’s vote, and the commission approved Proper’s license.

In addition to Fisher, West Side Tavern and Bout Time in Bluffdale, four more businesses are in the waiting list for a full bar license: Bout Time Pub & Grub in Saratoga Springs; Aker Restaurant in Salt Lake City; Marquis in Park City; and Yuki in Salt Lake City.

The board approved restaurant licenses for Xetava Gardens in Ivins; Blue Bird Apres Cafe in Park City; La Gringa Restaurant in Richfield; and Scrambled and Fried in Salt Lake City. With those approvals, commissioners noted they have only 25 restaurant licenses left to hand out — though another will be added in January.

A warning to violators

Tennert noted that because of the scarcity of licenses, the commission will be looking extra carefully at businesses that violate liquor laws.

The board was told that 19 businesses had committed liquor violations in the last month. The most serious violations happened at Tandoori Oven in Logan, Sakura Japanese Steak & Sushi Bar in Price, and Buffalo Wild Wings in Logan.

Tandoori Oven was cited for having a minor, an employee, sell alcohol to a minor. Investigators said the manager at Sakura illegally served the covert underage buyer, or C.U.B., who was working for the State Bureau of Investigation — and then verbally abused the buyer “all the way to the car,” Orton said.

“We continue to hear from our law enforcement partners that there are situations where owners or managers or whoever has committed a violation — particularly with our C.U.B.s program — we are seeing violence. Physical violence, verbal violence, verbal abuse,” Orton said.

The commission voted to approve settlement agreements with the two Logan restaurants, though Thue warned that because this was the second violation for each, another violation could mean the board could revoke their licenses.

Sakura’s owners, and the manager who was cited, were not available to speak at Tuesday’s meeting, because no interpreter was available. Their case was moved forward to the board’s January meeting.