New law allows D.C. breweries to sell pints, but it won’t turn them into bars

This post has been updated.

Monday was an important day for Washington D.C.'s beer scene. Thanks to the Manufacturer Tasting Permit Emergency Amendment Act of 2014, breweries in Washington can now apply for a permit that allows them to sell pints of beer during regular operating hours. Previously, breweries in the city were only allowed to offer a maximum of 12 ounces of beer per customer, per day, which most breweries distributed in four three-ounce tasters.


3 Stars Brewing Company co-founders  Mike McGarvey (right) and Dave Coleman  give a tour of their brewery. The company plans to expand its opening hours to sell more pints and growlers. (Photo by Lexey Swall For the Washington Post)

"It's something breweries across the country can do," said Dave Coleman, the president and co-founder of 3 Stars Brewing Company. Compared to Virginia and Maryland, states which allow breweries to sell full pints in tasting rooms, "it's been a disadvantage, frankly," he added. Coleman believes only being able to serve small tasters has made D.C. breweries less of a draw for people outside the city, cutting down on revenue during their popular growler hours.

The new rules have the potential to be a big draw for the brewery, Coleman said, and 3 Stars is moving forward quickly: A full bar will replace the tiny bar currently used for samples; the number of taps will increase from six to 10; tasting flights will allow for comparison of the brewery's different IPAs or saisons; opening hours will be extended; and 3 Stars will hire more staff to keep up with expected demand.

Despite the changes, Coleman doesn't think 3 Stars will begin acting like a bar. "I see people stopping by on their way home, having a beer and picking up a growler," he explained. "I don't see people drinking like it's a bar, with 70 heads in here on a Tuesday night. It's more like a neighborhood thing, for folks who want to come in and check out the beers."

Atlas Brew Works was another brewery pushing hard for the rule change. Brewer Will Durgin said the 40-foot bar in the tasting room was built with the intention of selling pints. "We're thrilled that it finally happened." (The brewery applied for its license "first thing this morning," he added.)

Durgin sees the biggest boost coming from brewery tourism. "That 12 ounces per-person, per-visit, goes down pretty quickly," he said. The old rules were especially confusing to out-of-towners. "The look on their faces when I tell them they can't get a pint, they're crestfallen," Durgin explained. "In the craft beer community, it's assumed that you can get a pint of beer at a brewery. I think this is going to be big for beer tourism, and of course it's good for us to be able to sell more beer."

While the biggest immediate impact will be at growler hours, "down the road, I'd like to do happy hour, at least later in the week, so that people can get a pint or two on their way home or before going down to H Street," Durgin said. "I think our location is going to help us ... I think [the bar] will be a destination in its own right."

(Courtesy of DC Brau)
(Courtesy of DC Brau)

DC Brau co-founder Brandon Skall said his brewery has no plans to become more bar-like as a result of the new regulations, but guests will still benefit from the ability to purchase additional pints after their sampling tickets have been used.

"If a guest is enthusiastic about a beer, then they can hang out and drink that beer and chill out," Skall said. "That part's really exciting."

Then there's the financial benefit, which should help people like Patrick Mullane, one of the founders of the forthcoming Hellbender Brewing Company. The brewery hopes to open in September in Riggs Park, and the ability to sell pints should offer a modest cash injection to a new business.

"You're not making a lot of money when you're doing tasting and growler fills," Mullane explained. "You have to have four to six people working, and you have to pay them a fair wage, and they're usually not getting tipped. It's going be a big help for us that we'll be able to sell pints right away." Even though Mullins doesn't expect customers to linger "for more than one or two beers," he said, "It will help make growler hours profitable," despite the outlay for a commercial dishwasher and more glassware.

(If you want a preview of Hellbender beers, they'll be serving an IPA and a saison at this Thursday's Brew at the Zoo.)

While this new legislation is exciting news, here are two things to keep in mind:

1. These new rules don't take effect immediately: Bars have to apply for a license and then pay $1,000 for the annual permit; no one seems to know how long it will take to receive it from the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration.

2. Breweries will only be able to sell products they produce on site, so you can't order a shot of whiskey or glass of wine as well as beer. They also have to close at 9 p.m. "If you want to watch a game, the brewery's not going to be a good place," says Hellbender's Mullane.

Fritz Hahn has written about bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. A product of Prince George's County public schools, Fritz majored in journalism at the University of Maryland and lives in the District.
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