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Herrera Beutler bill would allow tribes to operate distilleries

Apr 27, 2018
In The News

Native American tribes have been free to own and operate breweries and wineries since the 1950s, but they are still prohibited from operating distilleries on tribal land under a 184-year-old law.

That would change under a bill co-sponsored by Southwest Washington Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, who is proposing to repeal a 19th-century prohibition on tribal distilleries.

Herrera Beutler and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Puget Sound-area Democrat, co-sponsored the bill after the Chehalis Tribe ran into the antiquated provision during the permitting process for its own craft distillery project.

The tribe’s plan includes a brewery, a craft distillery and attached educational and restaurant facilities that would provide training and employment to tribal members. Brewing instruction and distillery skills would also be taught to college students in conjunction with college courses.

The project is expected to create about 100 tribal and non-tribal jobs, according to the tribe.

“I’m pleased to put this bill forward to help place Indian tribes on equal footing with non-tribal citizens by allowing them to pursue the same economic opportunities as everyone else,” Herrera Beutler said during a hearing Thursday.

The bipartisan bill is co-signed by U.S. Reps. Denny Heck, D-Wash.; Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma; and Don Young, R-Alaska.

Bill Iyall, chairman of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, said he supports the legislation.

“There’s a lot of that going on in the market right now, so it only seems fair that tribes would have the same opportunity,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.

Iyall said he could eventually see the Cowlitz tribe building and operating a distillery that serves the Ilani Casino — a $510 million venue that houses 15 different restaurants and eateries.

“I think it’s certainly an opportunity that might happen down the road,” he said.

Craft distillers sold nearly 6 million cases last year, according to the American Craft Spirits Association. That only comprised about 1.75 percent of the entire spirits market, meaning craft distilleries have room to grow.

Smaller distillers also received a boost under the federal tax cut law signed by President Donald Trump last December.

The law lowered the federal excise tax that producers pay from $13.50 per proof gallon to $2.70 for the first 100,000 gallons of distilled spirits — an 80 percent reduction.