“It used to be that there were tasting permits for grocery and liquor stores but not for breweries,” recalls Brandon Skall, chief executive of DC Brau in the District. “We actually wrote the legislation to allow tasting rooms and hired a lawyer to lobby the city council.”
On a given Saturday between 1 and 4 p.m., the brewery offers free tours and tastings that attract 300 to 500 visitors, many of whom pay to fill growlers while they’re there. “We like to have a food option for our guests,” says Skall, so he invites food trucks such as BBQ Bus and CapMac to back into the brewery’s loading dock and offer their wares.
“I don’t think we’d be in business if not for the tours and growler fills,” says Skall.
Ditto for the District’s Chocolate City Beer. The brewery will top up 100-plus growlers during a Saturday open house, says co-founder Jay Irizarry, accounting for up to 20 percent of weekly sales. Business will probably increase once Chocolate City receives a permit to offer samples: “People aren’t necessarily going to commit to a growler without a taste first.”
Dave Coleman, president of 3 Stars Brewing in Takoma Park, expects to serve his first beer by late June. But his tasting room is set to open Friday. Long before the first glass gets slung over the homemade, L-shaped bar, Coleman will operate the 500-square-foot space as a home-brew supplies shop, with merchandise that includes hop pellets, dried yeast and glass carboys. “There are easily over a thousand home-brewers in D.C.,” estimates Coleman, and a dearth of local suppliers to serve them. He foresees amateur beermakers hobnobbing at the brewery, swapping advice with their peers and soliciting tips from 3 Stars’ brew crew.
Baying Hound Aleworks in Rockville operates a tasting room with a five-seat bar that can accommodate 30 to 40 visitors, says owner Paul Rinehart. He charges $5 for a tour. Guests can buy bottles and growlers (up to 288 ounces per customer) to go. Rinehart also can apply for up to a dozen special-events permits per year that allow him to sell pints over the bar. “It’s great for gathering consumer data on new releases,” he reports. This Thursday through Saturday, he’ll offer several test brews, including Haile Selassie Stout, brewed with coffee beans from a local Ethiopian market.
District brewers can offer a visitor up to 12 ounces of free beer, but it can’t be consumed at the brewery. The recent passage of SB 604 will allow Virginia brewers to sell beer for on-premises consumption without applying for a restaurant license, a privilege already accorded the state’s wineries. On May 15, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell dropped by Richmond’s Hardywood Park Craft Brewery to sign the bill into law and toss a few hops into a kettle.