Cheap Liquor at Privatization's Dawn

Fond of boutique booze? You're in luck.

It's still not clear whether restaurants and bars will save any money by buying directly from distillers and distributors, as is now allowed under I-1183. But the law has resulted in short-term savings for consumers of blueberry vodka and a dozen more alcoholic oddities.

Since the new law requires the state to deplete its liquor inventory by June 1, the Liquor Control Board has arranged buyback agreements with most spirits manufacturers. Control Board spokesman Brian Smith estimates that such agreements cover 99 percent of the state's inventory. Those agreements will keep products on the shelves of state liquor stores until they're forced out of business, he says. "The remaining one percent is at-risk inventory," he says. "We have to get rid of it."

Spirits from distilleries too small to coordinate buybacks will be substantially discounted. "You can get pretty good deals," Smith says. "Some up to 50 percent. The idea is to sell this stuff out."

The state last month started discounting wine, and plans to continue its promotional pricing until every bottle's sold. Not every store stocks every spirit on the discount list, so Smith suggests paying a visit to a local liquor store to learn what's available.

While few consumers are likely to be significantly affected by the fire sale, the entry of distributors and distillers into the liquor market marks a "huge change" for Washington, Smith says. For the time being, however, "We anticipate people are going to keep buying from us," says Smith. "We've heard restaurants haven't seen price lists yet."

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