KRWG

Special Liquor License Could Boost Craft Spirits Industry In New Mexico

Feb 11, 2020

Credit Dry Point Distillers, Mesilla

New Mexico has a limited number of liquor licenses.  And that means the licenses are priced so high…in the hundreds of thousands of dollars…that they’re out of reach for many small restaurant owners.  But a Las Cruces area legislator has been trying for years to get a special liquor license approved.

Back in 2016, KRWG began covering the complex issue of New Mexico liquor laws. At the time, state Senator Bill Soules was working on a solution: a special license that would only permit the sale of New Mexico-produced liquor.

“It would be a limited liquor license but would allow them to sell hard liquor, spirits, not just beer and wine. But not be able to sell any brand just ones distilled in New Mexico. That would go into New Mexico branding, the New Mexico true campaign. It would support New Mexico industries and restaurants and bars and things of that sort would have a real New Mexico flavor to them,” said Soules.

But Soules’ bill did not pass back then and was also tabled in the 2019 legislative session.  Advocates say the legislation would be a boon not only for restaurants, but also for New Mexico-based distilleries.

Over at Dry Point Distillers in Mesilla, the finishing touches are being added to a new expansion.  Dry Point is just one of many craft beverage producers in town that have recently grown. Dry Point owner Chris Schaefer says it’s all about the experience.

“I think that’s totally what’s boosting the craft beverage industry. Wineries, breweries, distilleries in the state and in Las Cruces. People want something special. They want the story behind it.   It’s the changing times, people want local they want handmade, they want to know their distiller or their brewer. They want that flavor difference,” said Schaefer.

It’s also those changing times that Icebox Brewing owner John Wright hopes will help streamline the processes business owners face when trying to grow.

“I certainly think city state county could streamline some of the processes they have. some of them are kind of mired in tradition. with no room, we haven’t improved on those options that we have. I think we need to streamline our construction and permitting processes. I know the city’s trying they have talked about that,” said Wright.

Those obstacles haven’t stop Icebox Brewing from expanding. In fact, the ability to get a brewers license played a key role in the beginning of the business.

“We did some home brewing 20 odd years ago and part of it is the liquor license issues we have in New Mexico. you know the opportunities I would say, the way the liquor licenses are bought and sold and the pricing of them. It allows a brewery – I think – to flourish. like Albuquerque.”

And flourish they have. with the growth of new craft beverage producers, Dry Point’s Chris Schaefer says they may become a stronger force for change in New Mexico.

“Craft beverage producers are a growing force and we are something to be reckoned with. We are becoming more powerful as more businesses open and tax revenue is created. We are just gaining more clout in Santa Fe and different local districts. We want New Mexico to be able to compete with these other states that have big craft beverage, craft food businesses or industry. So, we have to compete,” said Schaefer.

Carol Wight is the chief executive officer of the New Mexico Restaurant Association.  She says the association recognizes that more research needs to be done. She told KRWG:  “The NMRA is putting together a task force that will spend the next year looking at current and potential liquor laws in order to find solutions for the industry.”

State Senator Bill Soules has been pushing a solution for years:  The special license that would only allow the sale of New Mexico-produced liquor.  But owners of full liquor-licenses have lobbied hard, fighting passage of the bill.  

A 2019 report by research and markets highlights the potential lost opportunity for New Mexico.  It projected the craft spirits market would grow by a third between 2018 and 2023, with revenues reaching $20 billion dollars.

And economists say vibrant local businesses like distilleries are especially important in New Mexico, with an economy currently depending on huge state incentives for everything from Spaceport America to the TV and film industry.