13 Prime Steak mixologist Stacey Voss serves up some to-go cocktails in this March 2020 photo. Image via 13 Prime
Written by Edward Smith
The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has extended some regulatory relief to bars and restaurants until the end of the year while also letting some expire at the end of this month.
In response to devastation felt by the hospitality industry, the ABC provided a number of allowances in California code to help eateries and drinkeries accommodate customers who had to stay at home.
Representatives of both craft brewers and craft distillers’ associations say extensions such as allowing patios and allowing direct-to-consumer shipping give business owners certainty they need before those allowances disappear. And at the same time, the industries are hoping some of those changes remain permanent.
Many of the Covid provisions are set to expire June 30. The ABC announced nine provisions would continue until Dec. 31:
—On-sale retailers exercising off-sale privileges
—Sale of alcoholic beverages to-go
—Deliveries to consumers
—Expansion of licensed footprint
—On-sale licenses without kitchen facilities
—“Virtual” meet the winemaker or brewer dinners
—Renewal of relief for charitable promotions and sales
—Relief from Type-75 requirement to produce 100 barrels of beer annually
Most notably, for breweries and restaurants, this means restaurants and bars can still keep their tents and patios up and they can still serve to-go alcoholic beverages, said Chuck Van Fleet, owner of Vino Grille and Spirits and president of the Fresno Chapter of the California Restaurant Association.
Van Fleet had been waiting to hear if these rules had been extended. He said anything that helps them make money back from last year will help.
A lot of breweries had been wondering how long they could keep the patio and tent areas, said Lori Ajax, executive director for the California Craft Brewers Association.
A number of proposals are floating around the California Legislature that would allow restaurants and breweries to continue to serve in those areas, said Ajax.
Additionally, the extension of charitable promotions and sales means breweries can more easily donate money or beer to causes. Breweries will sometimes create special brews to fund special causes, such as wildfire victims.
For example, Tioga Sequoia Brewing Co. released a special beer and announced a 1% pledge to the Central Sierra Resiliency Fund.
Ajax said that donations to certified nonprofits are allowable but it can be complicated as alcohol producers are limited on what they can give away for free.
Craft distilleries were especially impacted during the pandemic as they were forced to shutter their tasting rooms, said Cris Steller, executive director for the California Artisanal Distillers Guild.
What’s more is that unlike wineries and breweries, distilleries normally cannot deliver straight to the consumer. People couldn’t go to bars or restaurants and many grocery stores focused on getting bigger brands, said Steller. What the ABC allowed for distillers was temporary permission to deliver direct-to-consumer. Distilleries relied on this during the pandemic. While tasting rooms are opening back up, the extension means distilleries can fulfill orders without wondering if a repeal of those provisions would keep them from doing so, said Steller.
Legislation to make direct-to-consumer deliveries was stalled and Steller hopes it will be revisited in January. Both Ajax and Steller say they need legislation to strengthen the laws behind alcohol deliveries. The Supreme Court decision Granholm vs. Heald in 2004 reinforced rules around interstate commerce saying that a state could not discriminate against out-of-state producers. Steller said he would like to see a law passed that better abides by the Granholm decision even if it means more competition from out-of-state producers.
But for now, many restaurant owners, brewers and distillers are happy to see extensions.
“So many shifted their businesses,” said Steller. “This is another way to keep our doors open until business gets back to normal.”