Licence warning leaves sour taste
Legal red tape has outlawed wine and spirit tastings at top island drinks firms.
Rum-maker Gosling’s and drinks distributor Burrows Lightbourn have both received Liquor Licensing Authority letters warning them tasting sessions are a breach of their licence conditions, which they said would hit business and damage the tourism industry.
Now they want the island’s “outdated” licensing laws overhauled to bring them into line with other countries such as Britain and the United States. Charles Gosling, managing director of the family firm, said he had received two letters from Liquor Licensing Authority chairman Juan Wolffe.
He added: “The writer of the letter informed us that he considered we were in breach of our liquor licence.
“One licence was taken to task for offering tasting samples of Dark ‘n Stormies on Harbour Nights, the other for ticketed wine tastings at the Dundonald Street store.”
A spokesman for Burrows Lightbourn said its Discovery Wines in Pembroke had received a letter telling them that the business’ licence was strictly for the sale of liquor and that “intoxicating liquor is not to be consumed on the licensed premises or on any premises contiguous to the licensed premises”.
The spokesman added: “It seems that there had been a review of our website and promotional material which refer to samplings, sipping and tasting.”
Both companies said that the letters warned of consequences if they failed to comply, but did not detail penalties.
The licensing authority, however, has a wide range of powers, including the ability to strip a holder of its licence in extreme cases.
Mr Gosling said: “Tolerance for past action was given with a clear understanding of what the consequences would be moving on.”
The Burrows Lightbourn spokesman agreed that the letter referred to possible future action being taken if practices continued.
He said: “It does not specifically say what actions.”
But both men said ending tasting for customers would affect trade. The Burrows Lightbourn spokesman added: “The impact on business will be significant.
“Many of our customers decide on what they are going to purchase based on small samplings of the different offerings that are available at tastings.”
Mr Gosling said the change would have implications on the company’s ability to showcase products made on-island.
He explained: “We know and appreciate very much the value of the words ‘Product of Bermuda’ on the label.
“We also have tourists and business people coming to the island,” he said.
“It would be a shame not to be able to educate them on the difference our products have over other international brands through in-store tastings.”
The Burrows Lightbourn spokesman said: “The Liquor Licensing Act is outdated and it is understandably open to different interpretations.
Mr Gosling added: “In the past, we have received numerous legal interpretations on the tasting question.
“The answers have been diverse enough to make the issues as clear as pea soup.”
The Burrows Lightbourn representative said: “We believe the Authority recognises problems with the current law and we feel would be supportive to a review with the aim of updating the legislation to make it more current with like jurisdictions in North America and Europe.”
Mr Gosling added: “Bermuda is in the business of providing enjoyable life experiences. Where we fail at times is providing added value. Go to New York, San Francisco, London, Paris and you will find liquor stores offering in-house wine or spirit tastings to all.”
Both companies said they were keen to meet with industry regulators to discuss the problem.
Mr Gosling added he wanted to see “a new Act following a collaborative process with the Authority, Government and other interested parties”.
The Burrows Lightbourn spokesman said: “It is our intent to meet with the Chamber of Commerce and other stakeholders with a view to working with the Authority and Government to find the solution in a productive and positive way.”
He added that customers — both locals and visitors — loved the tasting experience.
And the Burrows Lightbourn spokesman said that restrictions hit the ability of ordinary people to experience fine wines and spirits.
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