Cheers! New liquor licenses allow new kinds of businesses

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New liquor license fees to be considered Tuesday by the Hawaii County Council Finance Committee will usher in new opportunities for county businesses, officials say.

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New liquor license fees to be considered Tuesday by the Hawaii County Council Finance Committee will usher in new opportunities for county businesses, officials say.

A new “small craft producer pub” license paves the way for a unique business that has been approved by the Liquor Commission and is in the process of getting final permits. Company Rum LLC, set to become the island’s first licensed distillery, will use fresh sugarcane juice to create French-style rums at its Kawaihae location.

The sugarcane is being grown at Kahua Ranch on Kohala Mountain Road, said Steve Jefferson, one of the distillery founders.

Jefferson is particularly excited about how the selection of 43 varieties of sugarcane came about. The varieties, so-called “canoe” plants that came to the island with the Polynesian settlers, range in color from pinkish purples to striped navy blue and produce flavors ranging from the most delicate sugar syrup to lemongrass, honey and molasses, he said.

“All are totally unique flavors,” Jefferson said.

If all goes as planned, the company will have farm tours showcasing the varieties of sugarcane and how it’s processed, in addition to tours and tastings at the distillery itself, he said. While sugarcane production for sugar has gone the way of the plantations because of an inability to compete with foreign markets, a specialized use such as this will keep the tradition alive, at least in spirit.

The small craft producer pub license will cost $1,000 annually.

The county will also create a condominium hotel license to conform with changes to state law, although there are no such facilities currently on the Big Island, said Steve Morifuji, administrative officer for the county Department of Liquor Control. That license costs $1,200 annually.

There’s also an increase in the license fee for caterers, from $120 to $600. While that looks like a steep increase, the license is being changed to accommodate food caterers who don’t have a stand-alone liquor establishment, allowing them to also sell liquor at approved events, provided at least 30 percent of the sales come from food.

In another case, however, the county is catching up with a 2012 state law that allowed the island’s only winery to make a go of it.

Before the state license for a winery was created, Volcano Winery operated under a wine manufacturing permit. That permit allowed the sale of wine in bottles, but forbid the sale of glasses of wine for wine tastings.

Volcano Winery owner Delwin Bothof found himself at the end of a losing proposition, with tour companies bringing busloads of cruise ship passengers to his establishment for free wine tastings. Because the cruise ships bar passengers from bringing bottled wine onto the ship, sales were lackluster, despite the consumption of a lot of free wine.

Bothof has nothing but praise for the county Department of Liquor Control.

“These guys are really, really helpful,” he said.

Bothof says he has no problem paying the higher license fee, which went up from $400 for a wine manufacturer to $1,000 for a winery.

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The annual fees are in addition to a percent of sales that liquor establishments pay annually. The money goes to the Department of Liquor Control to pay its expenses for administration and enforcement.

The council’s Finance Committee meets at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday in Hilo. The public can participate there, or by videoconference from the West Hawaii Civic Center, the Waimea council office, the conference room adjacent to the Hisaoka gym in Kapaau, the Naalehu state office building and the Pahoa neighborhood facility.

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