CEDAR CITY, Utah – Utah liquor control commissioners walked into a bar.
This is not the setup for a very good joke. The Utah Department of Alcohol Control Commission held what were technically public meetings Tuesday inside the Instant Gratification Winery and Policy Kings Brewery in Cedar City.
“This would be our first trip to an approved facility as a group,” DABC chairman Thomas Jacobson told FOX 13.
Obviously, individual commissioners have frequented bars in the past. But this is the first time that the commission as a whole has ventured into a licensed bar.
“These are the people who are our customers, our customers, if you will,” said Jacobson. “We have people applying for licenses and all we see is paperwork when we’re in Salt Lake City.”
It is also the first time that the DABC commission has met outside of Salt Lake City. They led the business portion of Tuesday’s meeting in St. George and also visited a state liquor store in the area.
“I think it is so important for us to be better commissioners, to understand how our licenses and other decisions impact the companies who are licensees or applicants,” said Commissioner Tara Thue.
DABC Executive Director Tiffany Clason traveled around the state to meet with liquor licensees to find ways to improve service. Bringing in commissioners was designed to give them feedback from the people the agency serves.
“A lot of our customers are small businesses, it’s our moms and pops or even big resorts, bars, restaurants,” she said. “It’s great to leave the Wasatch front, to be in a different part of the state and to see what the common challenges are and what are the unique challenges they face that we need to understand as a department.”
Over lunch, Doug McCombs, owner of Instant Gratification Winery, shared with the Commissioners his successes and challenges. He hosts a popular wine festival in Cedar City, but doesn’t actually sell his bottles at state-run liquor stores. Much of its clientele is outside of Utah. He has spoken to commissioners about trying to get wine clubs and the tough legal issues he faces as a vineyard.
“The challenge will always be what the committee can do versus what the legislature needs to do. But I appreciate the fact that they wanted to hear some of these concerns and get the ball rolling,” McCombs told FOX 13.
As a liquor control state, the DABC makes over half a billion alcohol sales annually in Utah. On Tuesday, the agency said its sales were up $ 20 million from last year. But the licenses are a limited offer. This month, the commission would not even hear from the 15 bar candidates because they do not have a license to be awarded until December. They also ran out of resort licenses for Utah’s lucrative ski industry.
The problem became so serious that the commissioners began to encourage people who show up to the meetings to complain to call their elected lawmakers.
“There is little the DABC commission can do and the number of bar licenses is controlled by the state legislature,” Thue said. “That’s why I think you’re going to hear more and more DABC commissioners talking to your lawmakers. Because it’s really an issue that has a direct impact more than the companies applying for the licenses, but the economy. “
Jacobson said the Utah state legislature is expected to settle the licensing issue in the 2022 legislative session.