Jamin Sangster is tapping along on the steering wheel as KDUK plays Top 40 hits over the radio. He’s bopping in his seat, dancing to the beat while driving through Eugene and Springfield, delivering beers to customers of Ninkasi’s Better Living Room restaurant.
Driving in an unmarked white van through neighborhoods, he says he’s aware of how it looks like he’s driving the typical “stranger danger” van. He laughs because he says he remembers a time when a child on a bike once stopped and gestured with his fingers that he was watching him.
When COVID-19 first hit the U.S., Sangster says, he had been working at Ninkasi for a few months, but the pandemic put him out of work. When the Oregon Liquor Control Commission temporarily OK’d beer deliveries, he was back to work running beer and ready-to-cook meals.
At its Sept. 11 meeting the OLCC is considering making those delivery changes permanent. If OLCC commissioners approve the permanent change, people can continue buying booze as humans were intended to: half naked and in front of their computer or TV screens. Although allowing the alcohol industry to adapt to COVID-19 is partially the motivation for the rule change, this decision has been in the works for a while — ever since the gig economy got popular.
Under current OLCC regulations, businesses have to apply to participate to have same-day delivery privileges. Because of COVID, the agency has had an increase in applications, so it is proposing to remove the application process, according to the notice of proposed rulemaking filed in July.
OLCC spokesperson Bryant Haley says making alcohol deliveries permanent is a chance for the agency to help the industry while addressing a regulation that it has wanted to deal with even before the pandemic.
Ninkasi invited Eugene Weekly to ride along with Sangster as he delivered beers to customers in Eugene-Springfield. Ninkasi delivers to the metro area and doesn’t charge a delivery fee.
Sangster is the restaurant’s sole full-time delivery person; it doesn’t use any of the popular delivery apps. Like any server or bartender before the pandemic, he says he has his regulars, though that doesn’t mean he doesn’t check IDs (and no, he says he doesn’t allow kids to accept beer for their parents). Sangster adds that although he’s delivering alcohol, he still has the responsibilities of not over-serving customers.
The OLCC’s proposed changes aren’t the first time permanent alcohol delivery regulation has been proposed. State Rep. Margaret Doherty was the chief sponsor of House Bill 4117 during the 2020 Regular Session (before the pandemic). It would have authorized businesses to deliver malt beverages, wine or cider through a delivery person who would have had to undergo training. The OLCC would have also developed, implemented and maintained an electronic platform for ordering distilled liquor.
Doherty was the lone speaker at the OLCC’s Aug. 17 public hearing. She said at the meeting that her rationale for initially proposing legislation was that if cannabis could be delivered, so should alcohol.
“With the changes in the retail industry and with more people relying on home delivery, I thought it would be a good idea,” Doherty said.
She said the bill didn’t get out of committee because of recovery advocates. Although there was opposition to her legislation because it would make alcohol access easier, she said if a consumer wants alcohol, they’d get it regardless.
Haley of the OLCC says Oregon has had rules on the books about delivery since the 1930s. Although the agency could make the delivery changes permanent, he says it could still unplug the changes if necessary. But addressing alcohol delivery was on the agency’s horizon before COVID-19 because of the rise of app services like DoorDash and Uber Eats.
“Not only has society moved toward this ‘Uber’ society, it also is forced to change by the social distance aspects of COVID,” Haley says. “One day we were going to have to update delivery.”
Should the OLCC accept the permanent changes, it would require orders to be received by 4 pm and delivered by 9 pm.
The OLCC changes could impact other aspects of alcohol if commissioners approve it at their Sept. 11 meeting. One rule change would be to allow purchase of alcohol one hour earlier — pushing it back from 7 am to 6 am. This was influenced by grocery stores reserving times for vulnerable populations such as seniors. The OLCC could also OK liquor stores to hire carriers for same-day deliveries.
After Sangster delivered beer to a shirtless man in Springfield, he tells me he’s seen a lot of skin as a delivery person. But whatever OLCC decides on Sept. 11, it’s clear that there’s a lot of skin in the game — from the alcohol industry to that shirtless man depending on his beer delivery.
For more information about Ninkasi’s Better Living Room and its delivery services, visit NinkasiBrewing.com. Public comment for the 9 am Sept. 11 meeting is over; visit the OLCC’s webpage for access.