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A Senate committee agreed Wednesday that restaurant owners should have an easier time sampling liquor they want to eventually sell in their establishments.

Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, offered SB119 at the behest of restaurant owners who felt they were too often guessing at whether a type of wine or mixed drink might work on their menu because Utah is only one of two states that doesn't let them taste alcohol first before buying it wholesale.

Jason Flower, director of operations for Utah-based Watkins Restaurant Group, said the current rules are too restrictive and added that it's hard to make "educated, informed decisions" when it comes to liquor.

He said it's a "daunting task" when there are more than 4,000 wine offerings available to consider for a restaurant.

"What ends up happening is ... we have to make decisions on blind faith or copy other locations," he said.

The bill would allow restaurant owners to attend trade shows attended by liquor wholesalers where they could taste — but not swallow — the drinks they might want to put on their menus. The trade shows must be held at a place approved by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and must have at least 15 people attending and could only happen four times a year. It can also be done at state packing agencies.

Romero said there won't be state funds used for the sampling and supervision — those costs would be covered by the liquor industry.

"It's not about consumption," Romero said. "It's about providing restaurants and high-end businesses that offer wine the ability to sample them before they purchase for their restaurants."

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, voted for the measure but only after Romero made key changes — including requiring a member of the DABC to supervise the sampling process. Romero made the change readily and the bill now moves to the Senate.

Twitter: @davemontero

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