Thanks to North Carolina lawmakers, trips to breweries across the state are about to become even more enjoyable for numerous patrons.
On July 29, Gov. Roy Cooper signed the ABC Regulatory Reform Act (aka Senate Bill 290) into law, which allows customers to purchase up to two glasses of malt beverages or wine at a time and welcomes dogs and cats inside taprooms where food isn’t prepared. Additional new regulations will also have a major impact on distilleries, which can soon sell mixed drinks on-site, give tastings in ABC stores and no longer limit each customer’s purchase to five bottles of liquor from their premises per year.
The changes, which take effect Sunday, Sept. 1, will loosen previous legislation that capped patrons at buying one nonliquor alcoholic drink at a time. And while craft beverage drinkers were allowed to bring their pets to establishments’ outdoor areas, other than patrol dogs accompanying police and service animals alongside people with disabilities, four-legged friends legally weren’t allowed indoors.
Because breweries implement reusable glassware, they were previously permitted as restaurants and subject to the same laws, even if food wasn’t made on-site. But the new legislation will give breweries their own separate designation and standards.
“It’s easy to complain about government and laws, and I try not to do that, but these are sensible laws, and I really appreciate them,” says Tim Schaller, owner of Wedge Brewing Co. “The two beers [at a time law] makes so much sense. One of you can stay and relax. It makes our lives better.”
But with great convenience comes great responsibility. Schaller notes that breweries need to be clear that patrons still have to identify where the second drink is going so bartenders aren’t inadvertently serving minors.
“We have a lot of outside seating at both [Wedge] spots. At Foundation it’s easier. [Bartenders] can look out the window at the bar to see where [the second drink is] going. Have the person wave who’s taking it — whatever — and then go and check,” he says. “We do a lot of that anyway — just go outside and make sure the pitcher isn’t served to someone it shouldn’t. There has to be some consciousness about it.”
Tom Miceli, owner of Whistle Hop Brewing Co. in Fairview, is looking forward to the dual-drink option making his bartenders’ lives easier. He also anticipates that it will relieve occasional confusion between his staff and patrons, especially those visiting from other states where they’re not limited to ordering one drink at a time.
“The onus is on us to make sure that everybody that’s receiving a drink is a) of legal age and b) is someone who is not intoxicated and, basically, safe to serve,” Miceli says.
“We do make sure that all our bartenders are trained and go through RASP [Responsible Alcohol Seller Program] certification, but now when you are able to hand a customer two beverages, it adds a challenge. It’s one that we’re more than willing to accept, but our bartenders have to be aware of where that other drink is going.”
The modest size of Whistle Hop’s caboose taproom often allows bartenders to run a second drink behind the ordering customer, but at larger, busier establishments such as Green Man Brewery, the risk of illegally serving a minor is so great that owner Dennis Thies wishes the law hadn’t changed.
“I liked it better the way it was before. I think it only raises more of an issue for underage drinking. It makes it easier. It was good the way it was before — there are so many other problems, they didn’t have to worry about that one,” he says.
“It will make things more efficient, but really, that’s only an issue on Saturdays. Saturday is what we call ‘Festival Day’ at Green Man, and every taproom in Asheville and probably America. I’d be shocked to know what percentage of our taproom business collectively happens on Saturday. I bet you it’s pushing 30-35%. Maybe 40%.”
However, Thies is in full support of the animal law changes. “We’ve always been very welcoming of our furry friends and have little signs around and often joke that we prefer dogs to people at our taproom. I think we’ve had one of the most dog-friendly places in Asheville,” he says. “I think that’s great to clarify any gray area out there. I think the biggest thing with dogs is the liability that a dog could bite you or something.”
Responsible pet owners are likewise a must at Wedge and Whistle Hop. And while the risk of leashes as trip hazards means dogs still won’t be allowed inside the original Wedge Studios taproom or on the porch, Schaller is excited about dogs enjoying the spacious, air-conditioned interior at the Foundation location, which is ready for the uptick in canine visitors.
“Dog bowls — we have a bunch of them. People bring ’em, we get ’em. There seem to be plenty of dog bowls around,” Schaller says. “And then we have a cement floor, so if they slobber a little bit, we can mop it up.”
Seeing as the majority of Whistle Hop’s seating is outdoors, the property was already a dog paradise. And on especially hot or cold days or ones with inclement weather, pets can find respite in the nontaproom boxcar, much of which Miceli says is considered patio space. Still, he feels that having the law established makes the presence of dogs inside clearer — or cats, should owners feel so moved to bring a rare leashed and sufficiently socialized feline to that setting, a club Schaller personally won’t be joining.
“I’m not bringing my cat here,” he says.