July 24, 2013

Rick Hunsaker of Carroll is well into his second term on the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Commission.

The five-member state panel is charged with licensing and regulation, but it also does a fair amount of education and promotion for the beer, wine and liquor industries.

Recently, the commission has been involved with programs for the growing number of native wineries - like Santa Maria in Carroll County - and Iowa-based distilleries - like Templeton Rye Spirits.

Through that process, Hunsaker, the executive director of Region 12 Council of Governments and a member of the Carroll Area Development Corp., said he spots a promising business opportunity in Carroll County.

"We should probably have a brew pub in Carroll," Hunsaker said. "It's just one of those things that makes the community interesting."

Hunsaker thinks Carroll has the location and the demographics and culture to make a local brewery and associated craft-beer establishment successful.

"Carroll is the type of town it can do well in," Hunsaker said. "There's certainly a lot of interest in beer. I'd really like to see a brew pub in the mix."

Hunsaker said several locations in Carroll, existing buildings with some historic elements in particular, could be transformed into a brew pub.

Earlier this month, Hunsaker, 47, started a one-year term as vice president of the alcoholic beverages commission. Former Gov. Tom Vilsack appointed Hunsaker to the volunteer state position in 2006, and Gov. Terry Branstad re-appointed Hunsaker, a Democrat, in 2011. Members can serve a maximum of two terms.

"I'm interested in politics," Hunsaker said. "I'm interested in policy."

The commission deals with a variety of issues related to the sale and consumption of alcohol in Iowa, notably the oversight of the state's liquor warehouse in Ankeny. Beer and wine are distributed by wholesalers in Iowa, but liquor is sold to retailers through the state, which in fiscal year 2012 generated $115 million, about 2 percent of the state's revenue from booze sales, the commission reports. Since 1998, the state has made $1.8 billion from spirits wholesaling in Iowa, according to the commission.

Education is a key component of the commission's work, Hunsaker said, adding that the organization has worked to boost the profile of Iowa wineries.

Commission members also deal with problems like so-called nuisance bars, typically defined as such based on law-enforcement reports.

"It depends on the eye of the beholder but it's probably police calls," Hunsaker said.

In recent years the commission ruled on "adult chocolate milk," a product that is packaged like milk but includes alcohol.

Hunsaker and other board members have had concerns that the product is being marketed to underage drinkers.

The product, after some changes to the packaging, is available in Iowa.

For his part, Hunsaker, a Sioux City native who earned both bachelor's and master's degrees from Drake University in Des Moines, came to Carroll in 1990 as a planner for Region 12. He has been executive director since 1995.