Change in law sought for study of alcoholic drinks

Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles
Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles

FRANKFORT (Aug. 18, 2017) – Universities across Kentucky are offering classes in distilling, brewing and wine making, but students can’t necessarily taste the spirits they’re studying in class – even if they’re of drinking age.

Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles, said he wanted to address that in testimony Friday before the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations. He spoke in favor of proposed legislation that would allow accredited universities to conduct alcoholic beverage sampling for students who are old enough to drink as part of an educational program.

“There is ambiguity in the law right now,” said Kay, who has proposed similar legislation in prior sessions. “We want to make it clear that these education programs … are not in violation of the law.”

In response to a question by Sen. Dan “Malano” Seum, R-Fairdale, Kay said the proposed legislation is part of a larger effort to raise the reputation of these burgeoning educational programs.

“This isn’t a booze fest,” Kay said of the education programs. “This isn’t so underage kids can drink. This isn’t so undergraduates can have a good time at the expense of their parents and their universities.”

Kay agreed with Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, that the proposed legislation would also boost workforce development efforts in the state. Kay added that there are also tourism opportunities, citing the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and various wine and craft beer trails.

“We have programs developing in universities and colleges all across Kentucky,” Kay said. “Those programs have to go outside of their institution to get a third-party vendor to even have alcohol. Some of them are brewing alcohol, distilling bourbon … and doing other things culinarily.”

Midway University has a culinary degree program that has included bourbon distilling, said Kay, whose district includes the university. He added the university is now looking at offering degrees for craft brewers and local vintners.

At the University of Kentucky, Professor Seth Debolt directs the wine and brewing programs.

“Those classes serve as a technical foundation for the students to decide whether they would like to seek further education in that space and develop the required knowledge to enter the workforce,” he said while testifying before the committee. “It has been successful. We have around 300 to 320 a year in the classes.”

Peter Weiss of Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company testified that his company has partnered with Western Kentucky University to brew a type of beer marketed as College Heights Ale.

“The way we did that was that we actually went down to Bowling Green and built a brewery on the campus of Western Kentucky University,” he said. “This is our brewery under our license and it is our brewers brewing the beer. What we do is allow the students that are in the program at Western Kentucky University to come into our brewery and use it basically as their lab class – get hands-on experience with the sciences behind brewing and distilling.”

The program also includes classroom studies where students learn how to run a small business, hire people and read the laws behind brewing and distilling.

After the presentation, Committee Co-chair Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, asked Kay to work with Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control officials to draft legislation that could be introduced during the upcoming session.

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