Maine seeks fix for tasting law glitch

Picture this.

You're in Maine with a group of friends or family and want to sample a couple of beers or spirits before making your purchase.

No problem, you think. The state legislature earlier this year passed a bill authorizing stores that sell beer or liquor to hold up to a dozen public tastings a year.

Ah, but there is a problem. A last-minute amendment to that law says tastings “must be conducted in a manner that precludes the possibility of observation by children.” It has caused all sorts of complaints from stores.

As a result, Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, has introduced legislation aimed at addressing the problems, a proposal that has received the unanimous support of the Legislative Council, which reviews all bills proposed for the legislative session that begins in January.

The intent of the new law was to give sellers of spirits and specialty brews the same marketing tool that has helped Maine wine shops draw additional customers. But, since it went into effect in September, vendors have gone through all sorts of machinations to keep children from seeing any tasting activities.

For example, Leslie Thistle of Bangor Wine & Cheese Co. told the Bangor Daily News she has to cover her front and back door windows with black and drape a sheet across the large storefront windows, giving her shop the feel of a speakeasy during her monthly tastings.

"The law also means that she could be found in violation if a parent with children in tow comes into her shop to purchase a bottle of wine during a tasting event," the newspaper said. "She also pointed out that there are no laws shielding children from the sight of people drinking alcohol while seated on a restaurant’s outdoor patio."

Other wine and beer shops have taken similar steps to cover their windows or discourage minors from seeing inside during an event.

“Many stores that traditionally never had a problem conducting wine tastings are being hurt by this onerous requirement,” Fitts said in a statement. “My bill would instead mandate that a sign be placed at the entrance to an establishment when an event is being held, so all patrons are aware of the taste-testing.”

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