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Friday, August 5, 2011

New California Law Gives Brewery Tasting Rooms a Break

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2011 at 2:50 PM

click to enlarge Drake's Barrel House in San Leandro was built expensively under the old law - JASON HENRY
  • Jason Henry
  • Drake's Barrel House in San Leandro was built expensively under the old law

You walk into a brewery tasting room and order a sample. The beer is delicious, but you can't help noticing that the brewery doesn't have washable tile flooring and the cashier isn't far from the dishwasher. Naturally, there's only one thing to do -- complain to the health department!

You might be thinking, "Who cares? It's a brewery tasting room, not a restaurant kitchen!"

Well, until recently, there was no distinction made in the eyes of California law.

The issue came into public scrutiny in April 2010, when an anonymous patron (hostile competition?) lodged a complaint against San Diego's Lost Abbey Brewery and ignited a series of inspections that brought the nuances of tasting room law to light.

As Lost Abbey's Tomme Arthur noted, brewery tasting rooms without restaurants hadn't previously been inspected by health officials or ordered to comply with strict restaurant building codes. Now they faced costly renovations such as installing floor drains and industrial sinks, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars because of the complex plumbing that can be involved.

Thankfully, Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this week signed the Tasting Room Bill (AB 1014) into law, which eliminates the requirement to install restaurant grade equipment.

The California Small Brewers Association noted, "This is a common sense law that garnered bipartisan support at the Capitol. Yet another example that good beer brings people together."

Realistically, the vast majorities of breweries were not following the stringent codes to begin with. After speaking to a number of Bay Area breweries, SFoodie believes the new law is simply nullifying code requirements that were largely being ignored anyway.

Some newer tasting rooms, however, bore the burden of expensive buildouts. Not knowing when or if the bill would pass, Drake's Brewery built its new Barrel House to restaurant specs.

Drake's manager, John Martin, told SFoodie that it took seven trips to the Health Department and substantial architect, construction, and permit fees to get theroom up and running. The bill came "too late for Drake's, but other breweries will have an easier time in the future, which is great."

The bill places brewery tasting rooms on equal footing with winery tasting rooms, which were already exempted from the stringent health code requirements.

Cue dramatically garbled astronaut voice: "One small step for beer tasting rooms, one giant leap for craft brewing."

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Jason Henry

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