Asheville’s reputation as a beer mecca has benefited the local economy and culture substantially, but the influx of beer tourism carries with it an inherent risk. The sheer quantity of drinking events during Asheville Beer Week can lead to public safety hazards ranging from overconsumption to drunken driving, and nothing ruins a good time like a night spent in front of a magistrate or in the emergency room. That’s why Asheville’s law enforcement community works closely with local breweries, bars and restaurants to ensure that everyone can enjoy the city’s remarkable beer scene safely and responsibly.
“Our beer industry is ultraresponsible, and breweries are quick to educate consumers — but people make bad choices everywhere, even if it’s a very small percentage of the population,” says Al Bottego, Asheville Alcoholic Beverage Control chief law enforcement officer. A 28-year veteran of local law enforcement, Bottego has watched Asheville grow from a quiet mountain town with limited nightlife to a nationally recognized destination for beer drinkers. Overall, Bottego has been impressed with the level of responsibility taken on by local breweries in training staff to monitor patrons and adhere to the ABC’s interpretation of state laws, as well as the degree of discretion displayed by craft beer drinkers.
“I tend to look at [craft beer drinkers] as connoisseurs — their objective is typically to drink better, not more,” he says.
North Carolina’s alcohol laws can be relatively byzantine, especially to visitors. In addition to obvious restrictions regarding overconsumption and underage drinking, laws regarding consumption of alcohol on permitted premises are particularly significant in our state. Alcoholic beverages cannot be purchased at one permitted premise and taken to another; a single customer cannot be served two drinks at once; and open containers are never acceptable outside a permitted premise.
“If you violate these laws, you’re not only at risk of criminal prosecution, you’re also putting people’s permits on the line,” says Asheville-based attorney Derek Allen, who leads the Alcoholic Beverage Law practice at Ward and Smith. “If a brewery’s permit gets in trouble and they have to shut down for a few days or a week, that’s pretty financially devastating. Don’t put the servers and people doing their jobs in a bad position by rolling up without an ID or trying to take away two drinks. Help them help you have a good time.”
Allen frequently partners with Bottego and Stacy Cox, N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement special agent in charge, to offer educational resources and staff training to area breweries, bars and restaurants, with public safety being the paramount priority for everyone involved.
According to Bottego, large beer events such as the Beer City Festival can be of particular concern to law enforcement as the conjunction of crowds and alcohol can create an environment in which people may be more prone to act out.
“People can be less cordial in crowds,” Bottego says. “So bring your patience and judgment — and stay aware of your surroundings.”
Allen concurs: “Not just the ALE, but our local police authorities do a good job of knowing where fun ends and public safety issues begin.”
The cooperative relationship among law enforcement, local businesses profiting from alcohol sales and the craft-beer consuming public is critical to the continued economic growth of Asheville’s beer industry, and Allen points out that ongoing collaboration is in the best interests of all involved. While community leaders such as he and Bottego go to great lengths to ensure that industry professionals and consumers are uniformly well-informed on the letter of the law, it’s up to the individual drinker to enjoy Asheville beer responsibly.