Beer Scout: Local breweries take varied approaches to welcoming pets

EXCEPTIONAL: Otis hangs out at One World Brewing's West Asheville location. Since the establishment is permitted as a private club, it's the lone Buncombe County brewery where pets are legally allowed indoors. Photo courtesy of One World Brewing

Asheville is known for being a pet-friendly city where humans can take their animal companions nearly everywhere they go. That attitude extends to local brewery taprooms, nearly all of which are welcoming to a variety of species in addition to their human customers.

Animal visitors are primarily dogs, though brewery representatives report seeing the occasional cat on a leash as well as some more unusual creatures, including parrots, bearded dragons and other pets.

“A few years ago at [the Wedge Brewing Co.] Studios [location], we had a gentleman who was accompanied by a pig on a rope,” says brewery owner Tim Schaller. “Both were well-behaved and showed up a number of times.”

For most breweries with the space to handle it, such animal activity is encouraged. But under current state legislation, pets are legally only allowed outside.

Animal law

Even if they don’t serve food, nearly every brewery in North Carolina is permitted as a restaurant and given a sanitation grade card. Jessica Silver, environmental health director for Buncombe County Health and Human Services, says the designation is due to one reason: “Breweries fall under the jurisdiction of Department of Health and Humans Services when they use multiuse utensils — [typically] reusable glasses.”

During the annual inspection of a food service establishment, the Environmental Health Division enforces provision 6-501.115, “Prohibiting Animals,” in the N.C. Food Code Manual. The provision states that as long as live animals are not allowed to physically contact food, employees or serving utensils, restaurants are allowed to have dogs and cats in outdoor dining areas if the animals are physically restrained and do not pass through any indoor areas. Other exceptions include patrol dogs accompanying police and service animals accompanying persons with disabilities. There’s also one loophole to the provision, though it comes with its own set of consequences.

“As long as they do not serve food, if a brewery were to use single-use, disposable cups, they would be exempt from our jurisdiction and are not subject to 15 A NCA 18A .2600 Rules, which includes the N.C. Food Code Manual,” Silver says. “Breweries that do not fall under our jurisdiction would be regulated under [the] North Carolina Department of Agriculture.”

If a violation is observed during an inspection, Silver says the Environmental Health specialist will document the violation on the inspection report and assess points (either 0, 1 or 2) based on the severity of the situation or the reoccurring nature of the issue. In extreme cases, violations could result in permit suspension, after which the issue would need to be resolved in order for the permit to be reinstated. Violations reported by customers are also handled in a timely manner.

“All complaints under our jurisdiction are assigned to an inspector, who would then make a site visit and assess the situation,” Silver says. “This would involve speaking with the person in charge about the complaint and reiterating the rule that prohibits animals inside regulated establishments. All complaints and complaint visits are documented in our database.”

A search of Buncombe County’s Digital Health Department from 2008-18 for violations by restaurants where the reporting inspector mentions nonservice animals yielded two results, neither of which was for a brewery.

Abiding and thriving

REPTILE FRIEND: A New Belgium Brewing Co. patron relaxes at the brewery with his bearded dragon. Photo by Courteney Foster

Since opening its Asheville taproom in 2016, New Belgium Brewing Co. has intentionally created a pet-friendly environment. Ample outdoor seating and a sprawling lawn aid in this endeavor, as do waste bag dispensaries and what Michael Craft, the brewery’s Asheville community ambassador, calls “strategic shaded locations with dog water bowls” that are filled daily. When the weather turns cold, the hospitality continues through portable heaters on the deck — all efforts to be as accommodating as possible while still complying with the law.

“We certainly worked hard to make sure that people weren’t coming here and leaving their dog in their car, so that was the thing that we had to get around with the health inspectors,” Craft says.

“The Health Department certainly knows that we’ve been letting dogs walk through here, because they’ve been in here while humans have gone to the bar with their dogs,” he adds.”So, I think maybe what they’re letting us do is as long as they’re not hanging out in here, and they’re getting a beer and going outside, that must be the reason why they’re totally cool with it for us.”

The Liquid Center usually has a host by the entrance on its busy days. If guests walk in with a dog, they’re informed of the pet policy, and Craft says they’re generally accepting of it. Though there are days when the weather is bad and people are disappointed that they can’t bring their dogs inside, the staff does what it can to find legal workarounds.

Craft recalls a tourist couple who came to the brewery with their dog to watch a Team USA soccer match on a day when it was cold outside. To make the visitors more comfortable, the heaters were turned on, a garage door was rolled up and humans and canines alike were able to comfortably enjoy the game from the deck.

The private club exception

One World Brewing’s West Asheville location serves liquor, but not food, and is thereby permitted as a private club. Patrons must become a member to enter, which at One World costs one cent per year. The designation also means that One World West is, in Silver’s words, “exempt from regulation under G.S. 130A-250, and therefore would be exempt from our jurisdiction and are not subject to the N.C. Food Code regulations.”

It’s also the only brewery in Buncombe County permitted as a private club, a status that Jay Schutz, founding member and brewer, and his colleagues have used to make the venue animal-friendly. Pets are allowed at the brewery — indoors included — until 8 p.m., and measures are taken to ensure a harmonious environment for all.

“Welcoming pets is a little tricky sometimes,” Schutz says. “Bartenders need to know and be aware of dog postures and body language. If a dog is skittish, we will kindly ask the owner to come back without the dog because that’s a sign that the dog is agitated and hence more likely to become aggressive. It also signals to other dogs present that it is vulnerable, which in turn attracts aggression from those dogs.”

Schutz adds that “99 out of 100 dogs that come in are well-behaved and well-socialized,” but the location had its first incident that triggered the 8 p.m. rule in early September. A gradual awareness of dogs becoming more agitated when the sun goes down and the bar gets crowded — especially when loud music is added to the equation — likewise led to the policy’s creation.

“We also have a strict ‘leash-in-owner’s-hand-at-all-times’ policy, because when owners get a couple drinks in them, they tend to want to secure their pets to a chair or table while they go to the restroom or get a drink,” Schutz says. “That is a big no-no. The pet will likely try to protect the owner’s space and be aggressive to strangers passing by.”

Preservation first

Jeffrey Horner had every intention of honoring the Belgian tradition of having brewery cats when he opened Cursus Kĕmē. He’d promised his pet-adoring daughters — now ages 5 and 8 — that they’d soon have mouse-deterring felines with which to play, but it gradually became clear that he’d have to break that promise.

“It wasn’t until we were preparing to open this summer that we realized we probably wouldn’t be able to host any nonwildlife animals here,” Horner says. “We realized that we’ve got frogs and toads and snakes that come in the building every night — literally, we’re chasing them out of the building when we’re closing the doors — [and] that the cats would murder the songbirds and the skinks that run around.”

Horner has seen lots of black bears, groundhogs and squirrels on the brewery grounds. Raccoons and opossums are also prevalent, as are moles and voles. Great blue herons are often spotted on the river, and Horner recently witnessed a raptor, possibly a peregrine falcon, splash into the water, snare a foot-and-a-half long fish and fly over his head into the woods.

He says there’s also word of a few flying squirrels in Buncombe County, and people have come to the brewery at night hoping to spot them from the tall, old hickory and black walnut trees on the property. The trees additionally house two species of bats, one of which is threatened.

Protecting these animals and others is consistent with the ethos Horner has employed since he purchased the 3.2-acre property. In January 2016, Cursus Kĕmē was the focus of the first Early Assistance Program meeting conducted by the city of Asheville, during which he set forth his plan for the then-junk-filled land.

“Our goal was to preserve and repair the riparian environment along the Swannanoa River, and that’s the approach we’ve taken with everything,” Horner says.

Horner imagines the no-pet policy has curtailed some business at the brewery but notes that people who come in with a pet and are informed of the policy are understanding and say they’ll return without the animal. There’s also a sign by the entrance stating the policy, and he’s working on establishing a better online presence to spread the word through those means.

“It was a tough choice to make because everyone wants to bring their pets when they go relax and enjoy themselves, but the property can’t facilitate that,” Horner says. “I dragged my feet as long as I possibly could about making that decision, and when I made it, it was without joy.”

Though pets aren’t allowed, the land’s abundance of wild animals and animal-watching open it up to other opportunities. On Oct. 15, Horner had a successful meeting with the WNC Nature Center and Appalachian Wildlife Refuge to discuss the property being a potential release site for rehabilitated animals.

“We’re just doing our best to follow through with the intent, which is to keep this beautiful, natural landscape as pristine as possible,” Horner says. “Part of what we expect our patrons to do when they come here is treat it as nature and leave it as you found it. … It’s really just protecting the environment we set out to repair, and that includes not only the flora but all of the wildlife.”

Getting political

While Buncombe County breweries haven’t been documented for violating the “Prohibiting Animals” provision, over the past two years the health departments in Mecklenburg and Forsyth counties have had to remind breweries under their jurisdiction to abide by the law. Among them is Wise Man Brewing in Winston-Salem, which in September issued a statement on its Facebook page saying it “will do everything possible to lead the pack and enact change in the legislation.”

Dan Rossow, taproom manager at Wise Man, says that he and his colleagues have thus far spoken with a few local politicians, including their mayor and a state senator, and have also contacted John Bell, the member of the Virginia House of Delegates who was responsible for getting similar legislation changed in his state in March.

“We’ve also gotten together with some nearby breweries to discuss ways to mobilize. We’re planning to begin with a petition and hopefully encourage our dog-loving constituents to send postcards that we will produce to politicians stressing the importance of dog-friendly places to socialize,” Rossow says. “We also hope to bring the issue up with breweries [and] wineries across the state that have been impacted, since we will need support from across the state to change statewide legislation.”

Mike Rangel, president of Asheville Brewing Co. and interim executive director of the Asheville Brewers Alliance, adds that if any members of the ABA are having issues with this particular issue, the organization is ready to loop in the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild in Raleigh, which has a full-time lobbyist. Schaller says he “would be in support of a change in the provisions,” and Craft likewise feels that there’s room for progress.

“I can see where [the law] affects a lot of people’s business. I don’t know if people are necessarily not going to come to the brewery because they can’t bring their dog, but it sure is a nice effect,” he says. “I get why those rules are in place, but I think we’ve come a long way since a lot of those rules have been in place.”

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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