This morning at the crack of midnight Washington State supermarkets like Metropolitan Market in downtown Seattle began selling hard liquor. It took years of struggle, three state-level initiatives and more than $22 million from Costco, but is it worth it? Selection is way down, prices are way up, so who is really coming out the winner?
Mike Sherlock from distiller Fremont Mischief said things will be “more equal for small distillers. More fair.” While he had shelf-space at the strictly state-run stores, he suggested that small distilleries might have a wider audience under the new system.
Most markets are expected to carry only a fraction of what liquor stores had on hand.
Steven Stone from Sound Spirits pointed out that California chains like Bevco, as well as local retailers like Wine and Spirits World (formerly Wine World) will have a much wider selection on offer, though at higher prices than before.
Stone told Glossy News that “Tax is the real killer. The state is going to make more money… Tax is more than 50% [of the total price].”
In searching for someone to offer a silver lining, Kirby Kallas-Lewis from Oola Distillery pointed out that distributors “can do promotions with retailers, which was almost impossible [with state-run stores].” He further said that retailers and stores are “In it more together,” and that liquor will finally be treated “like any other legal product.”
With that said, I picked up a 750ml bottle of Fireball Whisky on special for $15.99, and the final price at the register was a surprising $22.10; clearly more than I bargained for when I cast my ballot.
According to the Department of revenue site, the tax rate is 20.5% (distributor tax) plus a per-bottle (retailer tax) of $3.7708, plus local sales tax of up to 9.5%. That means a $10 bottle of liquor cost $16.39. That’s a pretty monumental mark-up.
Maybe next time we can put forth an initiative to lower these sinfully high sin taxes, though somehow I doubt that one is ever going to make it on the ballot.
I lay no blame on the markets that have won the right to distribute, and are exercising that right. I just think it’s crazy that the state expects to pull in every penny as much revenue as they did in years past without the duty of employing or paying a staff.
While the real winner may seem to be Costco, it’s definitely the State of Washington.