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New measure aims to help craft distillers in Illinois

SPRINGFIELD (Illinois News Network) — Craft distillers in the state have received good news from the Illinois House.

A measure recently approved would license them based on size, giving smaller distillers some advantages. The system is modeled on the way craft brewers and winemakers currently are treated in the state.

State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, was the lead sponsor of the bill in the House. He said the industry is small, but growing in Illinois.

“They run into some of the same challenges that start-up breweries had,” Demmer said. “How do you get that first start when you’re too small to have a brand name established? How do you get on store shelves? How do you get people to know about you?”

The bill would allow a license for small distillers to self-distribute some product and to sell directly to consumers from their facilities, which Demmer said could help build brand loyalty.

Here’s what Iowa is already doing.

“If you’ve got the facility where you actually do the distilling, you can invite people in there and get a lot of engagement from people,” Demmer said. “They can see how the process works in addition to being able to sample or buy the product. The self-distribution aspect really helps give people a reason to come to them.”

Distillers that produce less than 100,000 gallons of spirits each year also would have access to another license which would permit them to open a limited number of satellite locations, similar to brew pubs. Illinois currently has more than 30 federally licensed craft distilleries, including at least two in Demmer’s northern Illinois district.

“We’ve had a chance in Springfield to meet several of these craft distillers, and there’s more than you think,” Demmer said. “It’s pretty neat to see the business models they’ve been able to put together.”

Demmer gave credit to chief co-sponsor state Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, for helping to shepherd the measure toward approval. He said it’s an example of pro-business legislation coming out of the House.

“I wish we had more of these,” Demmer said. “It’s good to see bipartisan support for something like this. It’s a positive step and hopefully something we can build some momentum out of.”

The measure, HB2675, now moves to the state Senate for consideration.

Related: LeClaire distilling company unveils new ‘million dollar’ expansion plan

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