The District’s beer landscape has changed since the 1950s when the city last had an operating production brewery. Beer drinkers back when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president likely had little interest in knowing much about the behind-the-scenes work of a brewery or visiting what was little more than a factory. But today’s craft drinker is different. She (yeah, she) wants to feel close to the products she enjoys.
Instead of merely picking up a six-pack at the grocery store, placing it in the fridge, and serving it to her hard-working husband without a thought about where the beer came from or even what it tastes like, she wants to see where and how the beer is made, and better yet, she would love to sit down at the brewery to taste the beer and chat with the people who brew it.
With all the breweries that are set to open in D.C., it would seem that dream will soon become a reality for District beer fans. Nearby breweries in Maryland and Virginia have tasting rooms where the very scene described above plays out. But current District laws are not making it easy for breweries like DC Brau, Chocolate City Beer, and 3 Stars Brewing Company to operate this way. First, zoning rules have caused these start-ups to set up shop in difficult-to-access commercial and manufacturing areas or even outside the District. Worse yet, no matter where a brewery is located in the District of Columbia, it is not allowed to hold on-site tastings.
DC Brau Brewing Company is leading the call for change. Yesterday on the behalf of brewery co-founders Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock, Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., introduced reform legislation to address the situation. The Brewery Manufacturer’s Tasting Permit Amendment Act of 2011, if it becomes law, would allow production breweries operating in commercial- and manufacturing-zoned spaces in the District to serve their beer on site, or at least apply for a permit to do so.
According to Skall, when the D.C. laws were re-written two decades ago, tasting permits were made available for Class A entities including bars, restaurants, and brewpubs, but not Class B manufacturers, which is what a production brewery is classified as. Skall explains:
It was obvious that we would have to be proactive and write a piece of legislation and have it go through the system. We worked with our attorney and our council member, who was excited and agreed to present it. The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration has no objection to the bill. If the council can rush it through, it could be active as early as the first week of March.
What happens next? If bellying up to the bar at any of your local breweries is something you would like to do, your local councilmember will have to help usher the bill through the legislative process and then vote for the bill to pass. Depending on the type of legislation, the process and timeline varies, so the bill could go right to review and a formal hearing for legislative vote, or it could get caught in a months-long path through committees, the mayor’s office, and even the U.S. Congress. For more information on how a bill becomes a law in the District, visit the D.C. Council website.