Urged on by the owner of Riverside’s Quincy Street Distillery, state Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) has introduced a bill in the Illinois General Assembly that would increase the amount of spirits that a craft distillery can produce and sell and would also allow craft distilleries to take their products offsite for private tastings.

Zalewski’s bill would increase the amount of spirits that a craft distillery could produce annually to 100,000 gallons from the current limit of 35,000 gallons. It would also increase the amount of liquor that can be sold onsite at the distillery to 5,000 gallons annually, up from the current limit of 2,500 gallons. 

In addition, the bill would also allow craft distilleries, such as Quincy Street Distillery, to obtain special use permits which would allow them to provide its products for tastings at special events, such as bachelor parties and other private events. 

Currently, the Illinois Liquor Commission does not allow craft distilleries to obtain special use permits.

“The distillers are small businesses who have grown quickly in popularity here in Illinois, and it’s clear our state laws for them are outdated and too restrictive,” Zalewski said. “We want to ensure these alcoholic beverages are made available to adults responsibly, while we modernize our laws to allow these businesses to have tastings and welcome people to enjoy their products.”

Derrick Mancini, the founder and owner of Quincy Street Distillery and the treasurer and founding president of Illinois Craft Distillery Association, says he is not allowed to sell his products at local events such as the Riverside Arts Weekend.

Private tastings are a growth area and a marketing tool, Mancini said. Not being able to obtain permits puts craft distilleries at a competitive disadvantage.

“It put us at a disadvantage in marketing our product, particularly in a regional and local nature when you might want be participating in local events and farmers markets and things like that, and many states allow you to do that,” Mancini said.

Mancini said Quincy Street Distillery is not running up against the current maximum output limits, but his business is very interested in the permit issue. 

“We’re one of the smallest distilleries, so we are not running into any of these limits right now, although nothing says that one day we couldn’t,” Mancini said. “We are very much interested in the third item, the ability to get the special use permit.”

In his role as treasurer of the Illinois Craft Distillers Association, Mancini is wholeheartedly supporting the increase of the output limits.

“I’m pushing this for the health of the industry,” Mancini said.

There are currently about 25 craft distilleries in Illinois, said Mancini, who opened Quincy Street Distillery in 2012 and added a small bar in its building in downtown Riverside in December 2013.

“Our bar/speakeasy has been critical for us staying afloat,” Mancini said.

Further growth for his business will come mostly from increased distribution, Mancini said. Quincy Street’s products, which include whiskey, gin, bourbon and vodka, are sold in a number of bars, restaurants and stores in the Chicago area, including The Chew Chew, Riverside Foods and Brookfield Liquors.

Quincy Street Distillery’s “speakeasy” is open on Wednesday and Friday evenings and on Saturdays and Sundays.

Zalewski is an occasional customer.

“I’ve enjoyed a drink in his distillery,” Zalewski said. “It’s a wonderful place for the community to gather, so I am enthusiastically hoping that this helps his business.”

No budget deal seen until after Nov. election

State Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside) doesn’t expect the budget impasse standoff between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic state legislature to be finally resolved until after the November presidential election. 

“I think we’ll do a short term fix to get to the new [fiscal] year [which starts in July], and then this will all be settled in November of 2016,” Zalewski said.

Illinois has been without a budget since July 1, 2015 as Rauner has pressed for legislation designed to weaken unions and, he says, improve the business climate in Illinois and stimulate economic growth. 

Many social service providers have been hurt by cutbacks as the state limits spending and operates at a deficit. Rauner has indicated a willingness to support some type of tax increase if the state legislature approves some of the changes he is asking for.

But longtime Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) and the president of the state Senate, John Cullerton (D-Chicago), have refused to support the changes Rauner is seeking or to pass a budget on their own. 

Both sides appear to be waiting for the November elections to settle things.

—Bob Skolnik