BRATTLEBORO -- The Selectboard wants to make sure the heifers are strolling down Main Street and not stumbling.
At the board's Tuesday night meeting, the Selectboard, acting as the town's liquor commissioners, voted 3-1 to reject a special event permit for Flag Hill Farm, Inc., a Vershire company that makes fruit brandy and hard cider. Flag Hill Farm wanted to offer samples and sell its products at a special Strolling of the Heifers event Friday night at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden during Gallery Walk. Flag Hill Farm would have been the fifth company offering alcohol Friday night, which is the traditional kick off event for the Strolling of the Heifers weekend.
During Tuesday's meeting, the board was leery of approving the fifth permit and voted instead to not allow Flag Hill Farm to sample or sell its products. David Gartenstein, Donna Macomber and David Schoales voted against granting the permit, while John Allen cast the lone vote in support of the application. Kate O'Connor arrived late to the meeting due to a scheduling conflict.
"I think the Strolling of the Heifers should be primarily a family friendly event," Gartenstein said. "I am troubled with the notion that we're going to have five different vendors, all packed in to the River Garden Strolling of the Heifer space, selling or giving away alcohol, in a concentrated situation like that. I really think that next year we should probably limit the alcohol to be distributed there to two or three vendors, and we should set a time frame beforehand to make a selection. I think five vendors to have there this coming Friday is way too many."
Strolling of the Heifers founder Orly Munzing said she was disappointed with the board's vote, and said these Vermont companies represent an important part of the state's growing craft and artisanal spirit manufacturers
"We support all products that support local farming," Munzing said. "These are small, quality businesses that produce quality products. The whole event will be well monitored. It's not like people will be coming to just get drunk."
With the Strolling of the Heifers just days away, Munzing said she was not able to make Tuesday night's meeting. She said the Strolling of the Heifers has had alcohol vendors at past events and there has never been an issue.
"These products add value to what Vermont farmers are growing. They help the Vermont economy and they make it easier for farmers to survive," said Munzing. "It is a very valuable product and we should celebrate it."
The Selectboard had already approved the four other special event permits at previous meetings to Vermont Distillers, Inc., of Marlboro, Saxtons River Distillery LLC, Go America Go Beverages who makes WhistlePig Whiskey, and Champlain Orchards.
The special event permit is issued by the Department of Liquor Control, but the Selectboard, acting as the Liquor Commissioners, can deny or reject an application.
The DLC Special Event Permit allows a manufacturer to sell glasses or unopened bottles at an event. The permit also allows the manufacturer of a wine or beer to sample two ounces of each product, but not more than eight ounces to each individual. Manufacturers of a spirit can give away up to one ounce to each individual.
At Tuesday night's meeting Allen said that while he agreed with trying to limit the number of vendors at the event, he also felt bad about denying the permit after approving four others.
But Macomber said she was uneasy upon hearing that the board was being asked for a fifth permit.
"As I read yet another request to distribute alcohol at this event I just found myself really feeling like its the role of the liquor commissioners to also be mindful of the amount of alcohol that's going to be flowing on that particular evening," Macomber said. "I'm finding that the timing of this one, sliding in right before, and the number of requests we've already approved, is making me inclined not to support this particular one. There's a potential for this to become way more feisty and it's our job to monitor that."
"I think it's too much," said Schoales. "When the third one came along I said 'jeeze.' And then the fourth one came. I can't imagine how they can monitor it. It's going to be full of people pushing spirits."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.