Free liquor tastings in ABC stores start in July

By Heather Sullivan - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - You can soon get a free shot in an ABC store. The General Assembly decided to let liquor companies offer free tastings starting in July. The move is expected to increase alcohol sales.

The liquor companies, not abc store employees, will be able to offer tastings of drinks they want to promote.

Explain Philip Bogenburger, spokesperson for the ABC stores, "Its only going to be products that are offered by the distilled spirits companies. Customers aren't going to be able to walk in and choose what product they want to sample."

Tastings are expected to increase sales for liquor companies and tax revenue for the state. Consumers are more likely to buy a $20 or $30 bottle of spirits if they've tasted it first. More than 40 other states already allow liquor tastings. Said Kyle Salus, State Manager for Beam Global Spirits & Wine, "In stores where there's sampling, you can see an incremental lift of at least 30%, just by those consumers coming in and trying one of the bottles."

Here are the rules: customers can have a half ounce each of up to three different drinks for a total of 1.5 ounces. Not much for many drinkers. But it is the equivalent of a glass of wine or a beer. We asked a bar manager, can that impact a light drinker?

"Yes, certainly," said Star-Lite Dining & Lounge Manager Shannon Conaway.

Just like a bartender, the liquor companies must check ID's and monitor the customers. Said Salus, "If they (customers) don't feel comfortable, they can stay there. We're going to have food available for them to try out as well."

And Salus says they'll keep an eye out for repeat visitors. "The person that is running the table will have to say I'm sorry, we've already served you. Tastings only last two hours."

So will tastings create competition for bars? Star-lite manager Shannon Conaway doesn't think so. She says tastings will educate consumers. "If recommendations for new liquor were coming from our customers, having tasted them and knowing they like them, it would mean a lot more to us because our customers want it, we know they'll buy it."

The law allows free liquor tastings to start in ABC stores in July. The dates and times of tastings will be posted in the stores.

(c) 2010. WWBT, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.