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Craft Distilling Is Booming and So Is Distillers' Need for Lawyers

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Over the past decade, craft brewing has taken off, with hip, local microbreweries popping up everywhere from post-industrial Brooklyn to downtown St. Louis, just a DIPA's throw away from the Anheuser-Busch mega breweries.

But your small batch sours are no longer the hot new thing when it comes to drinking. The cool kids these days (along with plenty of discerning drinkers) are all about craft distilling, seeking out the best microvodkas, the rarest whiskeys, and the most artisanal bitters. And when craft distilling booms, so too does the need for skilled, knowledgeable attorneys to guide small distillers through this highly-regulated industry.

A Lot of Distillers and a Lot of Regulations

Just how much of a boom has craft distilling seen in the past years? In 2003, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the federal bureau that regulates America's favorite vices, from smokes, to booze, to guns, issued only 50 distilled spirits permits. By March of 2016, it had issued almost 1,900 such permits.

But the laws meant to govern the spirits industry weren't designed with these new small distillers in mind. And those laws cover everything from distribution, marketing, limits on production amounts -- and, of course, taxes.

And that's just on the federal level. Distillers still have to face a myriad of state and local laws and regulations as well.

Raise a Glass to the Lawyers

For many craft distillers, this mesh of regulation requires legal guidance. For example, when an entrepreneurial boozehound wants to open up a distillery, they must first fill out a federal application, complete with background check and a check into the planned distillery's finances, security, production plans -- even label design. None of the steps are particularly easy, and almost all could be aided by legal advice.

The distilling boom, then, is a great opportunity for attorneys, particularly those who can take an interdisciplinary approach to compliance. But if you haven't been working in the spirits industry for decades (drinking doesn't count), don't worry. There are plenty of resources out there to help you get started.

Take, for example, Moonshiner to Craft Distillery: Leading Lawyers on the Business of Distilling, published by Thomson Reuters' Aspatore. (Disclosure: Aspatore is FindLaw's sister company.) Part of the Inside the Minds series, this practice guide brings you inside the booze and the law of booze, covering everything from the three-tier system of alcohol distribution to evolving distillery laws on the state level.

If you're looking to help clients get into the business of distilling and stay there, maintaining a successful brand and avoiding investigations, it's definitely a resource worth adding to your liquor cabinet book shelf.

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