Kathleen McLaughlin
The Bulletin

A Bend liquor store operator would like to sell kegs and pints in a space adjacent to his store, but first he needs Oregon’s alcohol regulators to change state licensing rules.

The proposal by Mark Merrick, president of East Bend Liquor Inc., could benefit other Oregon liquor store operators, and it would not violate the three-tier system, which separates alcohol manufacturers from the public through distinct distributors and retailers, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission staff.

Nevertheless, commissioners have heard negative feedback from the Portland bar and restaurant industry, which is more concerned about competition for real estate than pint and keg sales, according to a discussion on the issue in October. The OLCC does not post minutes or video of meetings on its website.

The commission put off a decision on Merrick’s request in October and again Nov. 30. It will likely be taken up again in January, OLCC spokesman Matt Van Sickle said.

Merrick couldn’t be reached for comment.

Oregon controls the distribution of liquor through state-licensed stores. There are a limited number of stores in each area, depending on the population. The liquor stores can have licenses for sales of beer, wine and cider in factory-sealed containers, but that type of license does not include kegs.

The petition Merrick submitted to the OLCC in February suggests allowing liquor store operators to add limited on-premises sales licenses — which means they could sell beer and wine by the glass, as well as kegs — as long as the business is separate from the liquor store.

Merrick has a space adjacent to his store where he would like to sell kegs and open a beer bar, according to OLCC proceedings in October.

In his petition, Merrick cites the explosive growth over the past decade in craft beer and wine. “In this environment of burgeoning growth and potentially bewildering choices, sellers with significant knowledge and insights into the nuances of this marketplace are best positioned to optimize the consumer’s buying experience, whether at retail or ‘by the drink.’”

Free tastings help customers make up their minds, said Angela Chisum, owner of Trailhead Liquor on the north side of Bend. “It really can change whether a product is selling or not,” she said. “To be able to sit and have a pint would be helpful.”

While her store isn’t set up for by-the-glass sales, she said she would definitely consider it in the future if it were allowed.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com