Tuesday, March 20, 2012

So where's the taproom going to be?

As many of you may or may not be aware the State of Ohio recently changed the law so that a brewery can have a tasting room without having to get an additional license.  Previously the state A-1 license allowed you to manufacture but not sell on premise.  To sell on premise required the addition of an A-1-A license which cost an additional $3,906 annually.  Along with that came several requirements which essentially made your business a brewpub (must serve hot food, etc.).  This puts you in the restaurant business which is something most breweries don't want to deal with (board of health, etc.).  The change in the law now allows breweries to serve their own beer on premise without having to pay the additional license fee or serve food.  This is a great step forward for Ohio and puts us on par with many other states that "appreciate" craft beer.  The breweries and micro-distilleries that lobbied for this change should be applauded because (as with anything in government)  it wasn't easy to get this passed.

So now I often get asked "will you have a tasting room?"  If people stop by to visit they ask "where will the tasting room be?"  It's a legitimate question but the fact of the matter is I can't afford to do one right out of the gate.  When I secured the lease on my space last year the law had not yet passed so it was not paramount on my list of "must haves" when I was looking at spaces.  I wanted to be sure to get the basics that I needed to build a functioning brewery together before worrying about things that (at the time) may or may not happen.  My brewery is one big open room and I will be using every square foot of it for production space.  Plus there are a few new requirements that come with adding a taproom to a brewery in Ohio that make it not as easy as some may think.

The new law requires that you must have separate bathrooms for Men and Women and they must be ADA compliant (Americans with Disabilities Act) which is pretty complicated.  You must also have a 3-vessel sink to wash glassware (or use disposable cups) or a commercial dishwasher.  While these seem like simple and legitimate requests the fact is I only have 1 bathroom and no 3-vessel sink.  So while the law removes the need to pay an additional $3,906 license to serve on premise it DOESN'T come with a $10,000 check so that I can become compliant with the requirements set forth in the law.

Again, I am not complaining that these requirements are out of line just that I am not in a position to meet them right now.  I'm self-financed and since everything is coming down to the wire financially as I approach opening (all I ate today was a Snickers Bar to save money) the fact is that these are not expenses that I could incur even if the law was already in effect years ago.

There is also another "hidden" aspect of this.  Depending on the zoning and occupancy permit of your brewery you may not be able to open a taproom without significant building expenses besides the bathrooms and sinks.  If your brewery (like mine) is zoned and permitted for manufacturing use then the allowable occupancy is usually pretty low.  Once finally approved (that's a story for another day) I think the allowable occupancy of my 2,000 square foot brewery will be 8 or 10.  That wouldn't make for much of a taproom.  To increase the occupancy would require additional emergency exits, additional parking, upgrades to the heating system and probably the addition of air conditioning  (I'm already sweating my ass off in here).  Again, things I don't have the cash flow to support at this time.

But fear not!  All this doesn't mean that I will never have a taproom.  One of the key features of my brewing space is that there is room to expand on either side.  Once we get up and running and get some money coming in it's definitely in the expansion plans.  If all goes well I may start putting those plans into motion in early 2013.  But for now I can't look much past the next few weeks of final installation, inspection and just getting a batch of beer made....

Until then please enjoy the taprooms being setup at Mt. Carmel, Rivertown, Listermann, Red Ear and eventually at Double Barrel.

As for me, its baby steps.....