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Buying Beer in Virginia: A Regulatory Analysis

A few months ago, I decided to undertake the arduous task of compiling the beer regulations for Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. into a unified place here at DCBeer. This is the second of a multi-part regulatory analysis – the first includes background on how the U.S. arrived at its current state-based regulatory structure and kicks-off the series with an analysis of the laws of Maryland.

This analysis focuses on Virginia regulations. Although the laws of Virginia are far less numerous than those of Maryland, the regulatory structure is changing fairly quickly, which makes the job for brewers easier but may require an update to this analysis soon. In fact, Stone Brewing Company and Green Flash Brewing Company are opening East-Coast facilities in Richmond and Virginia Beach, Virginia, respectively. There is little doubt that the enthusiasm for Virginia is in no small part due to the regulations becoming so much more brewer- and business-friendly.

VIRGINIA BREWERIES

To begin an analysis of brewing regulations in Virginia, it is important to assess the different types of brewery licenses. Virginian regulations do not specify that breweries are divided into “brewpub” vs. “production” facilities. Instead, Virginia Code Section 4.1-208 separates breweries based on barrelage limits. A barrel (or bbl) consists of 31 gallons (or two 15.5 gallon kegs). Breweries in Virginia are separated into three different limits: 500 barrels or less annually, between 501 and 10,000 barrels annually, and over 10,000 barrels annually. If a brewery wishes to distribute beer for off-site consumption, it must obtain additional permits, thus creating a de facto distinction between a production brewery and brewpub.

Throughout this article, for the ease of reading, I will refer to a brewery that primarily distributes beer as a “production brewery” and one that primarily acts as a brewery-restaurant as a “brewpub.”

As a reference point on brewery size, consider the production outputs of some local (and localish) breweries. According to a DCBeer interview with founder Bill Butcher, Alexandria based Port City Brewing will produce between 12,000 to 16,000 barrels per year. Just outside the beltway, Mad Fox Brewing, in Falls Church, was expected to produce 1,400 barrels in 2014. Farther still, Devils Backbone, in Lexington, VA, the 2014 Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year, hopes to produce in the realm of 45,000 barrels in 2015.

Virginia allows for a separate license for a Farm Brewery. This “Limited Brewery License” permits a brewery to produce up to 15,000 barrels per year on a farm. In order to obtain a Limited Brewery License, the farm must grow and use hops or barley on site. Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery, in Goochland, VA, grows it’s own “hops, barley, herbs, and spices.” Flying Dog, from Frederick, Maryland, recently announced the production of a farm brewery called Farmworks in combination with Virginia’s hop producer Luckett’s Mill Hopworks. According to Flying Dog’s press release, it intends to experiment with wild fermentation and barrel aging at the farm, in addition to other projects.

BREWERY ON-PREMISE CONSUMPTION

When you, as a consumer, go to a brewery for a tour or otherwise, you are permitted to have samples at no cost. However, up until very recently, a so-called production brewery was not permitted to serve pints of beer for sale. Prior to the passage of this law (SB 604), only a brewery with a kitchen and a license to also sell food – otherwise known as a brewpub – was allowed to sell pints. Now, with the passage of the law, breweries without a devoted kitchen like Port City can sell pints of beer directly to consumers.

OFF-PREMISE CONSUMPTION

In addition to selling pints and providing samples, breweries can also fill a growler for customers to take home. In Virginia, some retail establishments may also fill growlers. Many places, like Whole Foods, provide many draft different selections for customers to fill growlers. Unlike some other areas around the country, the growler does not have to have specific markings indicating where the beer came from – as such, a consumer is not required to buy a growler at the point of purchase, but may bring a growler from any brewery or store to fill in Virginia.

A consumer may fill a growler, as well as buy beer and wine at a grocery store, but cannot buy spirits of any kind. Spirit sales are controlled by the Virginia Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control (ABC). Laws governing the purchase of spirits are the subject of a different post, but the fact remains that the only places you can purchase spirits is at an ABC-controlled store or the distillery itself. Beer, on the other hand, can be purchased at grocery stores, convenience stores, or at a brewery.

If you decide to pick up a growler, six-pack, or other beer from a store to take home, you can only do so between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. However, if you decide to visit a bar or restaurant, they can serve you between 6:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m.

Store Type

Hours

Sunday Sales

Retail

6:00 a.m. – 11:59 p.m.

Yes

Bar/Restaurant

6:00 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.

Yes

In conclusion, it is clear that the Virginian legislature wants to keep pace with the public’s enthusiasm for craft beer. They are working hard to attract new breweries by loosening regulations on sales to encourage growth. In the future, the author hopes other states with more restrictive regulations will see the enthusiasm Virginia has for brewing and will work to replicate the results.

 

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