Breweries make beer. Wineries make wine (or, under their license, other emerging products such as cider and mead). But what about the reverse? Can a Washington brewery produce wine, cider, and mead? Or, can a Washington winery produce beer? Can either start distilling? Yes, the entity can do so. But, as you might expect, it’s critical to obtain the proper alcohol licenses to produce beverages in the other product category. Indeed, at both the state (Liquor Control Board or “LCB”) and federal levels (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau or “TTB”), different licenses are required to cross over into producing other kinds of alcoholic beverages. There are some facility setup issues to bear in mind when doing so, with separation concerns, but they’re not insurmountable. Indeed, as interest in all kinds of fermented beverages is on the rise, we expect to see more beverage businesses extending their brand into these new places.
Edit (5/9/2015): You all are astute readers, and it’s awesome. Thanks to a comment I received via email from one such reader, it appears there *has* been a tweak to the 25% rule. Although, it seems to be more of a sensical one to help keep taproom managers from breaking out calculators. I’m grateful for the note; and in my laser-like focus on the cider stuff, I didn’t cover this nuanced tweak. See my strikethroughs and underlined additions below; and I’ll be making a new post specific to this change where I also will point out some wonderfully inconsistent quirks in the bill. Look for that in the next day or so. -DT
Guest taps are a great thing. But, what about a cider guest tap in a State of Washington taproom? Can a Washington brewery sell cider? The reality right now is no (but if you can wait until July, I’ll have a different answer…read on).
Today, a brewery cannot legally have cider guest taps unless that Washington brewery is also a restaurant meeting certain food minimums (and even then you need a proper endorsement). This has been a bummer for cider fans of course, and also those needing and seeking to avoid gluten in their diets. It’s also kept beer and cider producers, who share a similar ethos, from doing a bit of teamwork to get presence in the marketplace. Of course, it’s also been an untapped revenue stream for both sides.
In any event, I have some good news for you. This legislative session, we saw House Bill 1342 introduced, which aimed to remedy just that. Thanks to our craft-savvy government, H.B. 1342 swiftly moved through the House and Senate and was recently signed by the Governor. H.B. 1342 not only permits cider guest taps, but it also allows sales for off-premises consumption. So, whether by the glass, growler, or packaged to go, cider has the forthcoming green light at Washington breweries, now with no extra regulatory or food-prep fuss.
When can you expect cider to (legally) pour at Washington breweries? The effective date is July 24, 2015.
A few last notes.
Keep in mind that nothing about House Bill 1342 changes the 25% rule on guest taps, covered over in this recent post, and it’s a welcome change in favor of common sense.
What Changed About the 25% Rule (Added 5/9/2015)
If you recall my first post on the 25% rule, you’ll remember that it was a weird rule. Under it, guest taps couldn’t exceed 25% of a brewery’s own on-tap offerings. It sounds great in theory, but the technical wording is actually annoying to apply. To make numbers easy, say you have 100 beers on tap. You could have 25 additional guest taps. Why? Because you have 100, you can have 25 guest taps (for 125 totals taps) because the additional 25 is no more than 25% of your own brands. As you can see, the law was confusing. So confusing, it’s hard to write out here. It would make a lot of sense if you could just count the taps, and not commit more than 25% of those taps to guests. For example, have 100 taps? Great, you can have 25 of them as guests—and that’s what I believe House Bill 1342 has done, even if it perhaps wasn’t its main intent.
Here’s the relevant part of H.B. 1342 with respect to this point:
(3) Any microbrewery licensed under this section may also sell from its premises for on-premises and off-premises consumption:
(a) Beer produced by another microbrewery or a domestic brewery ((
for on and off-premises consumption from its premises))as long as the other breweries’ brands do not exceed twenty-five percent of the microbrewery’s on-tap (( offerings of its own brands))offerings; or
(b) Cider produced by a domestic winery.
So, what’s up with these changes? A couple of things. First, it becomes notable that if you have cider on tap, it’s a part of your “on-tap offerings”, so having cider on tap becomes part of your offerings for the purposes of your 25% calculation. Maybe that’s the only thing the law was written to do. I’d like to believe, though, that it was also intended to eliminate the weird calculation problem above. Even if not, it appears to do so. Read the excerpt again. You can sell beer produced by another brewery, as long as guest taps don’t exceed 25% of your on-tap offerings. You can’t commit more than 25% of your total tap share to brewery guests. Interestingly, though, the law doesn’t say split about restricting your cider offerings. I’ll report separately about that (as well as another implication about the 25% rule I’d like to note…so stay tuned if you’re into this stuff).
Whatever the case, House Bill 1342 is a bit of a win for anyone who (1) doesn’t want to break out the calculator to compliantly allocate guest taps and (2) wants to allocate a bit more to guest taps. Let’s apply it. Under the new law, it seems that if you have 100 taps, 25% can be guests. So, 75 of them must be your beer or ciders, and then 25 can feature your favorite third-party breweries. Compare this to the old setup. Let’s say you had 75 of your own beers on tap. The old law said guests couldn’t exceed 25% of that. We know that 25% of that is 18.75. So, they compare this way:
Compliant Under New Law: 75 house taps or cider taps, up to 25 guest taps.
Compliant Under Old Law: 75 house taps, 18 guest taps.
Clear as mud? I’ll follow up soon to cover this, and a few other notable notes.
Last, bear in mind that H.B. 1342 also was specifically focused on getting cider flowing, and did nothing (but pave the way for the bright craft future) to get wine flowing at a non-restaurant microbrewery with a proper wine endorsement. In any event, it still counts as another win for the Washington beer industry, and our kindred cider-producing spirits. Though, speaking of spirits…well, we’ll leave that for another day. Here’s a link to the passed bill.
Are guest taps legal at Washington breweries? If you’ve been on a brewery crawl here in the evergreen state, you know the answer has to be yes. But, are there any restrictions on what a Washington brewery can pour at its taproom? Let’s dig in.
In Washington, we’re lucky to have a fairly de-regulated market. Just look at some of the Southern states, for example (where in Alabama homebrewing only became legal in 2013, sheesh). However, it’s not a free-for-all as far as guest taps are concerned.
In Washington, the on-point law can be found in RCW 66.24.244. It provides that any properly licensed microbrewery can sell beer produced by another microbrewery (those on the craft side) or domestic brewery (the big guys), but with one major caveat. The guest taps cannot exceed “twenty-five percent of the microbrewery’s on-tap offering of its own brands.” That might seem straightforward, but let’s break it down.
First, the excerpt one more time:
“Any microbrewery licensed under this section may also sell beer produced by another microbrewery or a domestic brewery for on and off-premises consumption from its premises as long as the other breweries’ brands do not exceed twenty-five percent of the microbrewery’s on-tap offering of its own brands.”
Understanding the Washington Brewery 25% Guest Tap Rule:
- Under the microbrewery license, standing alone, a brewery can only have beer guest taps. Not wine, not cider, not mead. The rule only applies to beer.
- The 25% rule is clear, but its application may not be. It’s easiest to break it down by using a number. You might read the 25% rule and think it’s simple. Say, I have 20 taps. A quick read may suggest to you that 25% of those can be guest taps. So, then, fifteen of my own beers and then five guest taps—75%/25%, right? It’s actually a little different. What the law says is that a microbrewery can’t exceed 25% of the brewery’s own brands. So, if you have 20 of your own beers on tap, then you could have an additional 25% allocated to guest taps. That’d be 25 total taps. 20 of your own beers, 5 guest taps. Important distinction. So, if you only had 10 total taps, no more than two could be guest taps.
- You probably caught it in the read through, but one last note. The law permits on-premise sales and off-premise sales, too. So, the law gives Washington breweries the green light to fill growlers from guest taps as well.
Ultimately, I love a good guest tap. And, I love that this industry is so supportive of one another that guest taps are a mainstay. The Revised Code of Washington, as applied by the Washington Liquor Control Board, ensures that Washington brewery guest taps are alive and well throughout the state. However, the 25% rule prevents a Washington brewery from, say, operating a full-fledged beer bar, while only dabbling in its own on-tap offerings. (Which, for me, is a bit of a bummer. I’d love to see a nano get rolling as a great beer destination—a fun atmosphere, an awesomely curated selection—then transition over into a bit more brewing. But, alas, that’s not the law.)
Opening and running a brewery is complicated, and Washington Brewery Law Resources aren’t necessarily all neatly gathered in one place. It can be hard to know where to look when your curiosity encourages you to start poking around. Today, I’ll do my best to help you start your research on how breweries in Washington State are regulated. There’s a bevy of laws/code/regs out there, that’s for sure. Here are some jumping off points for your legal excursions.
Keep in mind, these sources aren’t exactly written with readability as a primary objective. Important nuances pop up in all different places. That’s what we’re here for, if you’re ever not sure about something. Indeed, it’s through the code, and our understanding of it, that we can help answer all kinds of questions on the fly, such as: (1) Can my Washington brewery deliver beer to customers in Seattle?; (2) If I’m only selling beer within Washington’s borders, do I still need a Certificate of Label Approval?; (3) May those under the age of twenty-one come into my brewery without us having food service? The list of fun questions that vary from state to state goes on.
For anyone interested in checking out primary Washington Brewery Law Resources, here are some links along with my notes to help you navigate them.
Washington Brewery Law Resources – State Brewery Law
Revised Code of Washington. This is the law that the state legislature creates and revises. Primarily, you’re looking at the content in RCW 66, although keep in mind that other provisions relating to your business, potential distribution agreements, etc. all fall in other places in the code.
Washington Administrative Code. This is where administrative agencies put their regulations. In Washington, the primary administrative authority is the Washington State Liquor Control Board. They were created by the legislature by way of RCW 66 and given authority to do certain things relating to booze in Washington State. Any regulations they promulgate become part of the Washington Administrative Code. Unfortunately, this means that there are often provisions in RCW that address some of your questions, and then provisions in WAC that address other questions. It just depends on whether the legislature contemplated something or it’s LCB creating regulations by virtue of its authority.
Between those two, that’s the heart of Washington brewery law. Keep in mind there are some sanitation requirements set forth by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, and your compliance therewith is a part of maintaining your LCB microbrewery license. Further, there are some places where the County and your Municipality step in, particularly with respect to health codes and building codes.
Washington Brewery Law Resources – Federal Brewery Law
Of course, we all know that state and local government isn’t the final authority on breweries in Washington. Indeed, Uncle Sam, through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), has a say on a number of matters. When it comes to TTB, you’ve got to jump to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) to see all the regulations they’ve promulgated, and Title 27 is the place to go. Bear in mind, if you’re brewing off-the-wall beers, such as those without hops, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may be your labeling authority. And, very technically, FDA has concurrent authority over your brewing business—but TTB really is the place to go when you have questions of federal brewery law. Fortunately, they’ve put together helpful resources on their website to help you wade through labeling and advertising issues.
***NOTE: I have had two comments now from confused readers regarding my use of the term of “Pilot.” I use the term pilot to refer to a brewery’s test system – the brewing equipment used to prepare small batches of beer. My use does not include the TTB’s use in the “pilot brewery license,” which is a license reserved for educational, scientific and research purposes. That license will not allow you to sell your beer. But using a “pilot-type” brewing system, you can obtain a normal Brewers Notice. That is my intent with this article. Hope that clears it up!
The past few months have been extremely exciting. My office has been inundated with calls from brewers ready to go commercial. I am very happy to announce that Reiser Legal’s flat rate licensing packages have been uber successful – and as a result we have more beer being churned out. I only wish I could help more of you in other states (sorry guys and gals).
A trend is seriously starting to take shape – brewers are getting the TTB out of the way early on by licensing a pilot system. Whether it’s a 10 gallon system, or its a 10 bbl commercial pilot, many are finally taking advantage of the fact that a Brewers Notice can be attained much earlier than you might have thought.
I have always taken the stance that the best thing a brewery can do is get licensing accomplished as soon as possible. Waiting until you have you found investors, ordered equipment, installed equipment, ordered materials, etc. – can cost you quite a bit of money in standstill operations. Remember, the TTB and state licensing processes can take several months to accomplish.
In the past few years, the TTB has become accustomed to the “nanobrewery.” Regularly, the TTB licenses commercial brewing operations of no more than 10 gallons of production per batch. In some instances, I have seen anything from modified stovetop assemblies to standing burner setups get their TTB licenses and begin to churn out legally-salable beer.
The important things to remember are that the TTB will only license a bonafide commercial operation – which means finding zoned space capable of meeting local codes. Sometimes, it might be an industrial garage and sometimes it will be a small shed in your residential backyard. But, as long as you can meet the minimum standards, your dream of opening a microbrewery might be closer than you thought.
Knowing these things, many brewers are getting started earlier than they had hoped. By obtaining a suitable space and a reliable pilot brewing system, brewers are able to submit their application to the TTB and state licensing agencies. Once approved, they can grow organically and obtain change of locations, change of owners and other approvals required by the TTB.
Want an example? The photo above is my wife’s brand spanking new pilot system. This system will be used to submit an application to get her brewing. With the licensing processes out of the way, she can begin producing and selling beer while raising the money to start a full scale production facility.
Don’t delay the application process. Get brewing and grow organically.