Liquor Control "Completely Broken Down" - NBC4 Washington
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Liquor Control "Completely Broken Down"

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    Restaurant and store owners testify about their experiences with Montgomery County's Department of Liquor Control after a News4 I-Team investigation into the agency. (Published Friday, March 20, 2015)

    Michael Jones, who owns American Tap Room in Bethesda, Maryland, said he had a real problem on St. Patrick's Day.

    "We had approximately less than two-thirds of our taps available because our kegs were empty," he said.

    Jones was testifying before a special ad hoc committee created by the Montgomery County Council to investigate the Department of Liquor Control. Montgomery County is the only county in the country with a government-controlled monopoly over the distribution of beer, wine and spirits, according to the committee’s chair, County Councilman Hans Riemer.

    Riemer invited Jones, as well as several other restaurant and beer and wine store owners, to tell the committee about their troubles with DLC. Jones explained his kegs were empty because the county couldn’t get him what he needed for one of his busiest sales days of the year.

    Mike Hill of Adega Wine Cellar in Silver Spring testified he’s typically “shorted 20 to 30 cases of wine a week.” He estimated, “Right now, I would say 75 percent of my wall is bare because of items we’re unable to get.”

    But Hill was quick to mention, “The drivers are doing a fantastic job ever since the NBC4 Beer Bust.”

    In November, the News4 I-Team uncovered problems within DLC, including agency employees drinking while delivering beer and allegations of theft from those delivery trucks, which resulted in stores getting shorted the alcohol they say they need to stay in business.

    "Almost every delivery we've had something where it's not in, it doesn't get delivered and there's no one responsible for that,” said Frank Shull of the RW Group, which owns restaurants like Mussel Bar and Brasserie Beck through Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

    He told the committee he probably won’t create another restaurant in Montgomery County under the current distribution system. "Restaurants don't want to. They don't want to have to deal with the DLC. It is the evil empire to most people in the business. No one is held responsible, we can't get product, it makes it very hard to do business."

    DLC’s Director George Griffin told the I-Team he was “embarrassed by his agency’s customer service” after the hearing concluded. But he said he was pleased the county continues to hold these special hearings so he can try to fix problems with his agency.

    Riemer said the county will have one more hearing next Friday, March 27, before the committee will craft a proposal on possibly deregulating parts of the agency. He plans to invite the public to comment on that proposal in June before formally voting on it later this summer.

    He predicted the county will probably continue to regulate hard liquor by selling it to restaurants and through the county-owned stores. But he said he wants to overhaul how the county delivers special order craft beer and wine by privatizing their distribution. "We can't have stores with empty shelves and that sounds like that's what we've got right now and it can't continue."