Brewery to market – the beer starts flowing 2 oz at a time

Todd Cardin, co-owner of Elliott Bay Brewing, was the first person I ever heard talk about it. A few years ago he told me that it’s really silly that the law forbids him from serving samples of his beer at the West Seattle Farmers Market, which takes place every Sunday right across the street from Elliott Bay Brewery Pub. His product is local and fresh. Heck, it’s even USDA Certified Organic. His beer, like all local craft beer, is a natural fit for any local farmers market.

I remember Cardin explaining his opinion to me. His pub is right across the street, and shoppers are fully within the law if they stop by the pub for a couple of pints and then stumble across the street to do their shopping, but heaven forbid Elliott Bay Brewing actually serves samples at the market. All Cardin wanted to do was introduce his locally produced, natural product to people who otherwise might not realize how much they do, or should, appreciate local craft beer. Seriously, it’s a no-brainer.

Starting on September 1st, the state will begin a pilot program. In very small taster cups, the beer will start flowing at ten farmers markets scattered across the state. The sample size is limited to just two ounces and no one person can sample more than a total of four ounces.

The ten farmers markets included in the pilot program are West Seattle Farmers Market, Magnolia Farmers Market in Seattle, Vancouver Farmers Market, Everett Farmers Market, Vashon Farmers Market, Liberty Lake Farmers Market, Pasco Farmers Market, Pike Place Market in Seattle, Street Farmers Market in Seattle, Proctor Farmers Market in Tacoma and Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market.

The farmers markets got the ball rolling on this one (presumably the Washington State Farmers Market Association). The Washington Brewers Guild also had some input on how to structure the pilot program and what will eventually become the law. I’m not sure if any other brewers or brewery owners bent a legislator’s ear about the issue, but I’m guessing that Todd Cardin shared his opinion with at least one local lawmaker.

Sound Familiar?

The pilot program runs through November 2012. The Washington State Liquor Control Board (LCB), will keep an eye on how things go, reporting back to the legislature before the end of 2012, presumably in time for the legislature to address the matter during the 2013 legislative session.

If the schedule sounds familiar it is only because this is the exact same tact the legislature and the LCB took when addressing the issue of beer sampling in grocery stores: a pilot program began in late 2008, the LCB presented a report at the end of 2009, and the legislature passed a law in 2010 allowing grocery stores to serve samples of beer. If things progress on the same schedule, farmers markets would be eligible to serve beer samples starting in the spring or summer of 2013.

As I understand it, this law would enable a brewery to get a special endorsement for their liquor license allowing them to serve samples at farmers markets.  As it exists now, a farmers market may apply for a license to sell alcohol. Sell it, but not to allow sampling. Even after it passes there will be some very minor bureaucratic hoop jumping for both the markets and breweries wanting to take advantage of the new law.

Currently, at least one local brewery sells its beer at the local farmers market. On Fridays you can find Lantern Brewing, one of Seattle’s fine nanobreweries, at the Phinney Farmers Market in North Seattle.  As I understand it, this is the only place you can get the beer on a regular basis. Although they cannot sample the beer before they buy it, shoppers at the farmers market like the idea of drinking something produced locally on a small scale.

It’s a natural fit: local beer alongside local food and the other local products most of our farmers markets offer.

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One comment

  1. There is another small restriction you didn’t mention. Section 2 of the state Microbrewer’s license now reads: “Strong beer may not be sold at a farmers market or under any endorsement which may authorize microbreweries to sell beer at farmers markets.” Under the RCW, ‘Strong Beer’ is anything above 8% ABW, or just over 10% by volume. So you can’t sell hi-octane Belgians and Barleywines, the sort of one-off fancy (and expensive) bottles you might want to showcase to maximize your revenues given a small boothspace. I imagine the wineries are quite happy about this.

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