Dear patrons, friends, and supporters of the Blinking Owl Distillery,
Tuesday, November 12th marks the start of a 25-day shutdown for Blinking Owl’s tasting room here at the distillery in Santa Ana. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) has suspended the retail privileges which come with their Type-74 Craft Distillers license. That means for the duration of the suspension Blinking Owl will be closed to the public, including all private events or functions. While Blinking Owl disagrees with this conclusion, they will, of course, comply.
This shutdown is the end result of nearly a year of back and forth with state officials. While Type 74 license states that distilleries can only serve up to 1.5 oz. of alcohol per person per day, Blinking Owl is allowed to have private events, in which the drink restriction is waived. It is under this section of code which many small distilleries in the state have found a much needed revenue source by hosting private events or functions. To that end, Blinking Owl segregated private events with wristbands, something they believed the public was accustomed to and well understood the meaning of, and they subsequently operated in a manner they understood to be in complete compliance.
In October 2018 an undercover ABC trade enforcement officer, Agent Gray, called Blinking Owl distillery and put his name on the Private Event list for a party of 2 guests that day. Undercover Agent Gray and Agent Groff, came at the time he requested, checked in with tasting room staff, received a wrist band identifying him as “private”, and sat down at the bar. After ordering a cocktail, another patron entered the tasting room and also sat down at the bar. This patron had not arranged a Private Event and was informed by staff they would only be served the statutory limit of 1.5 oz of spirit, which they understood and followed. At this point, Agent Gray and his guest ordered a second cocktail, drank it, paid his bill, and left the establishment without incident.
Agent Gray followed up with the distillery owners one month later. He expressed that many craft distilleries had confusion on this new license type, and he had taken on the task of helping Blinking Owl understand this law. Although the law does NOT state a private event requires “physical segregation or separation”, the agent insisted that this was an “obvious” interpretation of the law, and wristbands were not sufficient. Immediately following the meeting, the Blinking Owl eliminated the use of wristbands, decided to no longer answer phone calls for private events (so Blinking Owl would have everything documented by email), and invested thousands of dollars to create an area on the patio that could host Blinking Owl events in compliance with this new interpretation of the law.
In May 2019, 7 months after the Agent Gray’s visit, the distillery received the letter from the ABC stating Blinking Owl had TWO counts of violations by allegedly over-serving both Agent Gray and Agent Groff in October of 2018 resulting in the penalty of a 25-day shutdown. The ensuing months found the Blinking Owl team in meetings with their legal team, delving into the minutiae of the law, engaging ABC officials, and in and out of “ABC court” as Blinking Owl has attempted to understand the basis for the allegations levied against them. In light of the excessive cost of taking the case to a higher court, the team has decided to accept this punishment under great protest in lieu of pursuing further legal action.
The Blinking Owl Distillery will come through this shutdown and will be flying their very own “BLINKING OWL WHISKEY REBELLION” flag. It is their hope that the “Whiskey Rebellion” campaign catches the attention of lawmakers and their constituents to see that these archaic laws governing distilleries are not #probusiness. It is their hope that this campaign awakens lawmakers and state officials to realize the absurdity of inflicting a harsh, unjust punishment when it is obvious that they are chasing legal clarification on a vague, undefined section of the law that it is currently based in constant changing opinion. And it is Blinking Owl’s hope that they can gather all of your support in their BLINKING OWL WHISKEY REBELLION by purchasing Blinking Owl spirits at your local bars, restaurants and retailers. While the tasting room will be closed, they will continue production, distribution, and sales to their accounts during this time.
They look forward to opening the doors again so you can come back, take a tour of the distillery, have a cocktail, and yes, even book a bonafide private event. Community is everything to Blinking Owl, and if you are reading this you are part of that community, and they can not wait to see you and serve you again soon.
#blinkingowlwhiskeyrebellion #AmendAB1295 #californiasmallbusiness #supportsmallbusiness #community #santaana #orangecounty #contactsacramento
Blinking Owl will be posting the details of their story daily on social media. Their public statement with full details can be viewed in its entirety on their website.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE:
If any of this seems weird to you, here’s how you can make a difference. Reach out to your elected state representatives and tell them you want this to change. Don’t know who represents you, not to worry, just go to findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov and you can quickly and easily find out who represents you in Sacramento. Remember, your elected officials want to hear from you, so let your voice be heard. Tweet them, email them, call them, write them a letter, it all works!
Need some suggestions to get you started? Not to worry. Take these and make them your own:
Twitter – Dear @(Fill in your rep.), the @CA_ABC is shutting down @TheBlinkingOwl over an arbitrary legal interpretation. We need the Craft Distillers License to work for, not against, small businesses. #AmendAB1295!
E-mail – Dear (Fill in your rep.), A small business I support is about to be shutdown by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The Blinking Owl Distillery located in Santa Ana, Orange County’s first craft distillery to open since Prohibition, is facing a 25-day suspension of the retail privileges on their Type-74 Craft Distillers license after an Administrative Law Judge upheld an action brought forth by the ABC regarding allegedly overserving an undercover agent. This action is being justified under a piece of the Business and Professions Code that has been arbitrarily interpreted outside the bounds of the intent of the law. This small business will suffer a tremendous and undue burden which will cripple their ability to pay employees, buy California-grown raw ingredients, and even pay state taxes.
The Blinking Owl was operating under what the average citizen would consider to be a fair and reasonable interpretation of the code. This is a clear case of piece of code that was written to help new and growing craft spirits industry that was turned it into an arbitrary limitation that will hamper small business in our state. While the current code is vague, the larger issue is the restrictive Type 74 license type. I ask you, if I can go into a brewery and drink 3 beers, or go to a winery and open a full bottle of wine and even join a wine club, can you see the disparity in the current law for craft distilleries?
I want the Blinking Owl Distillery to stay alive, I want them to have the ability to operate a responsible business without fear of being closed over an inconsistent interpretation of code, and I want your help in supporting this growing vital contributor to our local economy.
Sincerely, your constituent,