Mixed response to Queensland’s new artisan liquor laws

March 3, 2021
By Melissa Parker

After years of industry consultation, the Queensland government is poised to amend its liquor laws to create a new artisan liquor licence category for the craft brewers and artisan distillers. The amendment is currently sitting with cabinet and will go to parliament within the next fortnight.

If passed, the Liquor (Artisan Liquor) Amendment Bill 2020 will create a new liquor licence category for craft brewers and artisan distillers to support the sector’s growth and development and provide a much-needed boost post-pandemic.

The Background

In May 2017, the Queensland Government, on behalf of the Queensland Small Business Advisory Council, commissioned the University of Queensland to review the issues impacting artisan/boutique food and beverage producers. The findings led to recommendations aimed at enhancing the growth and development of the sector.

Then, the Queensland Craft Brewing Strategy released in November 2018, saw the Queensland Government acknowledge craft brewing as a quickly growing and dynamic sector.

Pre-pandemic, more than 1800 people worked for Queensland craft brewers and artisan distillers employed over. It was anticipated that by 2024, the sector would contribute over $100 million to Queensland’s economy. The Australian Distilling Association (ADA) estimated 106 jobs would be created in Queensland artisan distilleries over the next two years.

However,  in April 2020, this all came to a halt and the Independent Brewers Association (IBA) reported nationwide sales at craft breweries were down 67 per cent as a consequence of COVID-19 restrictions and closures.

The need for regulatory reform was enhanced by pandemic restrictions and subsequent economic hardship endured by boutique independent brewers and distillers.

New liquor licence laws

As it stands today, current licence laws mean local distillers and brewers can only sell and serve what they produce.

The new law will allow artisan liquor producers to serve other local drink products by the glass but not as take away. It will also enable them to sell their products at promotional events, such as farmers markets and trade shows.

The proposed amendments have come as welcome relief to distillers who can now sell their product online, easing the economic downturn for business from the Covid restrictions on movement and venues.

The new regulations also mean significantly reduced costs for would-be craft brewers and artisan distillers when setting up their business: the cost of an artisan liquor licence will be approximately a quarter of a full hotel licence.

But it’s not all smiles and handshakes for some in the industry. Some suggest it would be better if they were able to sell other local producers’ products take-away in an effort to support local industry and act as a collaborative cellar door.

Board member of the Independent Brewers Association and local Queensland brewer David Kitchen told the ABC it’s a half-baked solution that requires revisiting.

He told the ABC an earlier version of the legislation allowed licensees to sell each other’s products take-away, giving broader market access to the craft brewing sector. He also expressed concerns around the definition of promotional events as very narrow citing a local festival in Salisbury where he has a brewery and where he would not be able to trade under the new licence.

“We were basically forced into saying we’ll take a half-effective set of legislation because otherwise, we may get nothing,” Kitchen says.

Tim Crabtree, owner of Noosaheads Distillery and Brewery says it’s a step in the right direction to bring spirits in line with other alcohol beverages. He says being a distiller is the hardest in terms of what you can and can’t do.

“Being able to sell the products of others means we can work together and offer a different range. As an artisan distiller you only make three or four styles so you are limited to what you can offer.  It’s hard to make money with the tax, so now at least you can offer a broader base of spirits on a consumer level,” says Crabtree.

The Queensland State Government has announced an advisory group is to be established involving the ADA, the IBA, the Queensland Hotels Association and Clubs Queensland to recommend next steps towards the licence’s execution. Guidance around events licensing will be first thing on the agenda.

More news to come in the next fortnight.

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