In a decision at odds with its own policy, the Jeffco liquor board approved on June 9 a new beer and wine tasting permit for Tipsy’s Liquor World two months after the store was ordered closed for two days for selling wine to a visibly intoxicated man.
According to the county’s liquor-licensing policy, tasting permits can neither be approved nor renewed for a business within a year of a liquor-license violation. Though members of the liquor board said they were initially opposed to granting the permit to Tipsy’s, an attorney representing the spirits purveyor changed their minds, arguing that Tipsy’s case was unique and that the decision would not set a precedent.
“We are suffering this punitive, if you would, action by not allowing the tastings to continue for a violation that we’ve already paid the price for. … The violation did not occur when a tasting was occurring. It had nothing to do with a tasting permit,” said lawyer Adam Stapen. “The cage has been rattled. We understand that the tasting permit means a lot to this operation, and if a violation occurs when the tasting permit is in operation, we understand that we could lose that.”
Tasting permits, which allow liquor stores to serve alcohol, are relatively new in Jefferson County. The county’s policy was altered in 2006 to accommodate tasting events, and it prohibits permits for any business charged with liquor-license violations. Though the policy sets guidelines for the liquor board, it is not statutory. The June 9 hearing was the first time the board has had to deal with the policy, a county attorney said.
“I’m a little surprised you didn’t know about this rule,” said board member Williams Skewes, later indicating that Tipsy’s case was unprecedented. “My inclination is to go ahead and allow the renewal, because of these unique circumstances. And be thankful that we only have seven tasting permits out there, where this could be another problem for us. And I don’t know how we’ll handle it in the future. … A year from now … I’m pretty much going to want to adhere to that policy.”
A county attorney representing the Sheriff’s Office said the department had no objections to the tasting permit. Tipsy’s cooperated with an investigation following the Jan. 2 incident in which a man with a blood-alcohol level of 0.277 was found lying in the business’ parking lot after purchasing wine. The man reportedly drove himself home, swerving between lanes and traveling at 4 mph. The store was ordered closed on April 18 and 25 and faces an additional five days of closure should another violation occur within a year.
“They have a duty to know the law. At this point there is some wiggle room from our perspective in the ordinance to allow you to consider this,” assistant county attorney Margaret Davis said. “We’re just not objecting to the application, recognizing that this going to be an issue in the upcoming sting show-cause orders as well as in the future.”
Though liquor board members expressed concern that the exception would create a precedent for the seven businesses holding tasting permits in the county, Stapen argued that the decision would not translate to underage show-cause hearings, which are typically generated by Sheriff’s Office sting operations.
“Had there not been any violations here, you would not be here before us. It would be administratively approved, but the policy itself does seem pretty black and white to me,” board member Scott Estill said at the beginning of the hearing. “We have to decide if we want to go against our own policy.”
Not approving the permit would financially harm the business, store manager Scott Thomas said, adding that Tipsy’s would not have agreed to the stipulated closures in April had the business not been able to get a new permit. The store likely would have requested a full-scale hearing, he said.
“Nobody knew that this even existed,” Thomas said. “I think had we known prior to the hearing, we would’ve strategized a little bit differently.”
The three board members unanimously approved the new permit. Tipsy’s prior permit had expired May 1, and the business had reportedly not hosted any tasting events since the April closures. According to the business’ website, it will hold a beer and wine tasting on June 24.