Spend just a few hours behind a bar—or a few minutes talking to someone who has—and you’ll get an earful of how arbitrary and even draconian the Maui County Liquor Rules can be. Performers can’t say naughty words on stage; customers can only dance inside the specially taped-off dancing zone; employee names on timesheets must be spelled out exactly as they appear on official county Liquor Control paperwork. A violation of any of those laws could bring thousands of dollars in fines or worse on the establishment.
For the last couple of months, the LC has been working on revising those rules. The extent won’t be known until they begin holding public hearings, but local liquor licensees and manufacturers wasted no time getting into the act.
Enter year-old Makawao-based Haleakala Distillers, which makes the GMO-free and vegan-friendly Mo’ Bettah Rum. On Mar. 14, 2005, company manager Harrison “Jim” Sargent wrote two letters to the Maui County Liquor Commission asking for a couple rule changes.
For a company that boasts on its website (www.haleakaladistillers.com) that it employs no attorneys, accountants or consultants—“Why have a bunch of ‘suits’ sucking resources out of the company when they have no impact whatsoever on its actual products?”—Sargent sure crafted a couple fine legal arguments that two provisions of the Maui County Liquor Rules—08-101-11 and 08-101-22—are arbitrary and unfairly penalize locally owned spirits distillers.
Rule 101-11 makes it far easier and economical for “Fortune 500 companies, such as Anheuser Busch” to deliver booze than smaller, locally owned labels like Haleakala. Rule 101-22 prohibits spirits distillers from selling their products in “tasting rooms,” though it’s completely legal for beer and wine manufacturers to do so. Being helpful, Sargent even included possible rule change language in his letters.
“All that is ought here is a ‘level playing field,’” wrote Sargent. “The local economic playing field should not benefit one product class at the expense of another, nor should it handicap any local product from competing with imports.”
There’s a certain logic to his requests, which is why Sargent is going to need all the luck he can get.