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Where and how we will be allowed to drink beer in 2021

Lawsuits and overlapping jurisdictions carry pandemic confusion into the new year

Second Chance Beer is one of the parties that filed suit against Gavin Newsom.
Second Chance Beer is one of the parties that filed suit against Gavin Newsom.

The business of making and selling beer went all kinds of sideways in 2020. So, with vaccinations beginning across the country, when can we start to look forward to some semblance of normalcy?

The first significant change for the beer industry could come sooner than later. Statewide trade group the California Craft Brewers Association last week filed a federal lawsuit against governor Gavin Newsom and California State Public Health officer Sandra Shewry over the mandate that the state’s thousand-plus breweries offer meals with any on premise beer service. It suggests the restriction is “decimating California’s breweries.”

Several California breweries, including San Diego’s Second Chance Beer, are named as co-plaintiffs in the suit, which alleges, “constitutional violations, including denying beer manufacturers their equal protection rights,” because “the same onerous requirement is not imposed on wine manufacturers.” Indeed, California’s four-thousand wineries (including cideries and meaderies) have been allowed to serve wine during the pandemic without the food requirement.

Tom McCormick, the soon to retire executive director of the craft brewers group, says the public health department has offered only a “vague and in our opinion unjustified explanation” for the discrepancy.

As detailed in the suit, health officials contend that, “breweries are often social hubs and meeting locations for different households in a community. In contrast, wineries are generally located in certain regions of the state… settings people travel to visit, often have limited seating, and often operate with more limited hours and; consequently, and generally not social hubs or meeting locations for different households.”

The lawsuit cites the equal protection clause granted by the 14th amendment, contending “Beer manufacturers and wine manufacturers are substantially similar businesses, with essentially identical public health risk profiles.”

Of course, while that legal wrangling plays out, even if San Diego remains in California’s purple tier, which prohibits dine-in service altogether, a return to indoor dining seems weeks if not months away. Or doesn’t, depending on the results of a controversial San Diego Superior Court ruling in mid-December allowing a pair of local strip clubs to remain open. The ruling left enough wiggle room for restaurants and breweries (including Second Chance Beer) to resume on premise service while the matter makes its way through appeals.

Regardless what happens in the courts, there’s a ticking clock hanging over our ability to drink at expanded outdoor venues. City permits allowing restaurants and breweries to expand outdoor seating into sidewalks, courtyards, and parking spaces are set to expire August 3, 2021, unless the city council votes to extend them.

More relevant for breweries may be outdoor service decisions made by the California ABC. Throughout 2020, the ABC has issued a series of regulatory relief measures, introducing such allowances as take-out cocktails, drive through booze sales, and (prior to a statewide curfew) expanded hours for some businesses.

Most important to beer businesses was a relief provision expanding the footprint of their licenses — in other words, allowing them to serve beer in those city-granted outdoor spaces. The ABC says it’s approved more than 9,600 such Temporary Catering Authorizations since March, tying them to a brewery’s ability to serve food.

Which adds up to a recipe for more legal confusion in 2021. The ABC currently has no end date in mind for its various regulatory relief measures, but when it happens, breweries will get 10 days notice to return their license footprint back to normal.

If that happens to correspond with the August expiration of the city’s outdoor permits, we can expect to return to unencumbered indoor drinking… just in time for the hottest days of summer.

With luck, by that point we can stop buying beer to support our local breweries through these tough times, and simply get back to drinking beer because we like it.

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Second Chance Beer is one of the parties that filed suit against Gavin Newsom.
Second Chance Beer is one of the parties that filed suit against Gavin Newsom.

The business of making and selling beer went all kinds of sideways in 2020. So, with vaccinations beginning across the country, when can we start to look forward to some semblance of normalcy?

The first significant change for the beer industry could come sooner than later. Statewide trade group the California Craft Brewers Association last week filed a federal lawsuit against governor Gavin Newsom and California State Public Health officer Sandra Shewry over the mandate that the state’s thousand-plus breweries offer meals with any on premise beer service. It suggests the restriction is “decimating California’s breweries.”

Several California breweries, including San Diego’s Second Chance Beer, are named as co-plaintiffs in the suit, which alleges, “constitutional violations, including denying beer manufacturers their equal protection rights,” because “the same onerous requirement is not imposed on wine manufacturers.” Indeed, California’s four-thousand wineries (including cideries and meaderies) have been allowed to serve wine during the pandemic without the food requirement.

Tom McCormick, the soon to retire executive director of the craft brewers group, says the public health department has offered only a “vague and in our opinion unjustified explanation” for the discrepancy.

As detailed in the suit, health officials contend that, “breweries are often social hubs and meeting locations for different households in a community. In contrast, wineries are generally located in certain regions of the state… settings people travel to visit, often have limited seating, and often operate with more limited hours and; consequently, and generally not social hubs or meeting locations for different households.”

The lawsuit cites the equal protection clause granted by the 14th amendment, contending “Beer manufacturers and wine manufacturers are substantially similar businesses, with essentially identical public health risk profiles.”

Of course, while that legal wrangling plays out, even if San Diego remains in California’s purple tier, which prohibits dine-in service altogether, a return to indoor dining seems weeks if not months away. Or doesn’t, depending on the results of a controversial San Diego Superior Court ruling in mid-December allowing a pair of local strip clubs to remain open. The ruling left enough wiggle room for restaurants and breweries (including Second Chance Beer) to resume on premise service while the matter makes its way through appeals.

Regardless what happens in the courts, there’s a ticking clock hanging over our ability to drink at expanded outdoor venues. City permits allowing restaurants and breweries to expand outdoor seating into sidewalks, courtyards, and parking spaces are set to expire August 3, 2021, unless the city council votes to extend them.

More relevant for breweries may be outdoor service decisions made by the California ABC. Throughout 2020, the ABC has issued a series of regulatory relief measures, introducing such allowances as take-out cocktails, drive through booze sales, and (prior to a statewide curfew) expanded hours for some businesses.

Most important to beer businesses was a relief provision expanding the footprint of their licenses — in other words, allowing them to serve beer in those city-granted outdoor spaces. The ABC says it’s approved more than 9,600 such Temporary Catering Authorizations since March, tying them to a brewery’s ability to serve food.

Which adds up to a recipe for more legal confusion in 2021. The ABC currently has no end date in mind for its various regulatory relief measures, but when it happens, breweries will get 10 days notice to return their license footprint back to normal.

If that happens to correspond with the August expiration of the city’s outdoor permits, we can expect to return to unencumbered indoor drinking… just in time for the hottest days of summer.

With luck, by that point we can stop buying beer to support our local breweries through these tough times, and simply get back to drinking beer because we like it.

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