City looking at liquor tastings

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The Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday will look at the first reading of an ordinance that will allow free wine, beer and spirit tastings at liquor stores.

Five liquor stores have asked the city to allow tastings, which are allowed under a new Colorado law.

The law, which was passed in May and went into effect July 1, lowered the drunken driving threshold from 0.1 percent blood alcohol content to 0.08 percent.

It also made it legal to drive with an unfinished bottle of wine in the car and allow liquor stores to conduct liquor tastings.

Although tastings are allowed under the statewide law, local jurisdictions must opt-in to allow for tastings, City Clerk Julie Jordan said. The city also can put more restrictions in place than the state.

The law allows for any legal customer to have four free samples. The samples cannot be more than one ounce of wine or beer or a half-ounce of spirituous liquor. The retail liquor store also only can offer tastings 104 days a year, four days a week and for five hours between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Of the city's 12 liquor stores, three have written letters of support, two phone calls have been made in support of the law and one call was made in opposition, Jordan said.

Many of those wanting the city to opt in wish to hold wine tastings to introduce customers to new products, Jordan said.

In his letter to the city, John Marshall from the Bottleneck wrote that the tastings would give customers a chance to taste wine they might not know about.

"Having strong control over amounts and frequency should alleviate problems. We view these tastings as an opportunity to educate our clientele to a wider range of products," Marshall wrote.

City staff is recommending a $100 permit fee each year for the tastings. If allowed, the city might have the added costs of enforcing and monitoring the tastings permits, Jordan said.

Jordan knows of four other municipalities that have opted into the law, Breckinridge, Windsor, Thornton and the city and county of Broomfield.

The new law was a compromise between demands from legislators, lobbyists for the liquor industry and the Colorado Restaurant Association and groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Christy Le Lait, executive director of the Colorado chapter of MADD, worried that it could encourage drunken driving by allowing customers to go from store to store and that police wouldn't have the manpower to enforce the tastings.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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