Regardless of your personal opinion, there are some things you should know.
Should a brewery allow children in its taproom? Everyone has an opinion. Like so many things in our society these days, people are polarized. It seems that nobody just shrugs their shoulders and says, “Whatever.” There is probably no way I can write this article without igniting someone’s ire, regardless of my attempt to express no particular opinion on the subject. It’s a hot topic in the beer world, that’s for certain.
So why do some breweries allow children in their taprooms while others do not? According to what I’ve gathered from people with real skin in the game, there are two forces at work here. First, it depends on what the brewery wants. Second, it depends on what the law permits. A brewery’s policy about kids in the taproom is based on a combination of those two factors.
Below, I explain the laws that govern brewery taprooms and offer some insight as to how those laws impact the issue at hand. In addition to my explanations of the license types, I include the actual descriptions as provided by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (listed at the bottom of the story).
Of course, and this is important, other laws govern what happens at a brewery tasting room. Local jurisdictions, like the county and the city, may have their own requirements. I do not talk about those because there are too many.
Not every brewery’s “taproom” fits neatly into one of these boxes, but most of them do. As always, if you know more about this issue than I do, you are welcome to contribute to the conversation using the comments section below.
The Law of Freewill
Perhaps the most important law governing who is allowed in a brewery taproom is the law not imposed by the State of Washington or any municipal jurisdiction. There is no law in Washington requiring a brewery to allow children in its taproom. Regardless of mom and dad’s wishes, it is not incumbent on a brewery to allow minors in the taproom. A brewery may have logical reasons for making its choice. Maybe there’s no logic involved at all.
You do not have to agree with the brewery’s decision. There is no law requiring you to patronize a brewery that exercises a policy you do not like. You and the brewery are operating by the same law: The Law of Freewill. You are free to open a brewery of your own and operate the taproom however you like.
This is the license held by all breweries in Washington whether they have a taproom or not (all breweries making less than 60,000 barrels per year, which is virtually all breweries in Washington). The Microbrewery license allows a brewery to operate a tasting room and sell its beer for on-premise or off-premise consumption. Yes, the license to brew beer comes with the ability to sell it, but some breweries seek other options. Keep reading.
The Microbrewery License allows the brewery to serve beer from other breweries, too, but only 25 percent of beers on tap at any given moment can come from other breweries. They are also allowed to sell cider, which is a bit odd because they are not allowed to serve wine. Distilled spirits are right out. No distilled spirits.
There is no mention of age. Obviously, you cannot serve alcohol to a minor, but the law does not forbid children from entering a taproom operating by virtue of this kind of license. This license does NOT require that you allow children in your taproom.
Some breweries operate their taprooms with this kind of license but do not allow children. What gives? One brewery tells me it’s because their taproom is too small and they need to fill all of the seats with beer-buying adults. Another brewery quite candidly told me that it’s because they just don’t want kids in their taproom; it is not the atmosphere they want. One brewery told me that allowing kids in the taproom jacked up their insurance rates, which made me scratch my head, but I must take them at their word. Whatever the case, The Law of Freewill applies.
Some breweries operate with this kind of license but do not allow children after a certain hour, like 8:00 P.M. This is entirely the choice of the brewery; the law makes no mention of time.
In my opinion, I think some brewery owners just don’t want kids in the taproom for whatever reason and they feel like their decision must be justified. They do not need to make excuses for me; I accept that it is their decision to make.
Tasting Room – Additional Location
I like to refer to these locations as satellite taprooms. That is, they are brewery taprooms that are not located at the brewery (the production site). Like the Microbrewery license described above, there is no mention of minors. Unlike the Microbrewery license, it allows the brewery to sell wine for on-premise consumption. Rather odd. This license type was originally only offered to wineries but was extended to breweries in recent years, so the information I found about it (below) is still wine-focused.
Tavern Beer and/or Wine License
This is another type of liquor license that some breweries opt to use for their taprooms. A tavern license allows more flexibility in terms of what they can offer but absolutely forbids children. Period. It is very clearly stated, “No persons under 21 allowed at any time.” Nothing else. Absolute.
Along with a brewery’s own beer, a Tavern Beer and/or Wine License allows the brewery to serve wine, cider, seltzer and anything else that is not a distilled spirit. It also allows a brewery to pour more than 25 percent “guest beers,” which is a limit imposed by the Microbrewery license.
Pictured above, The Woods Tasting Room, which serves as the tasting room for the three-headed company that is Two Beers Brewing, Seattle Cider Company, and Sound Seltzer, was originally licensed as a tavern because they wanted to serve product from both the brewery (which must be licensed as a Microbrewery) and the cidery (which must be licensed as a Winery). The law required a Tavern License in order to serve both. That law has since changed, but the tasting room remains licensed as a tavern 21+.
In our world, we call this a brewpub and it is pretty straight forward. The brewpub license description makes no mention of age. Basically, this is a pub that produces its own beer. Not less than 240 gallons per year and not more than 2,400 barrels per year. A brewery operating with this type of licensee cannot sell beer for off-premise consumption, but there must be some legal way around this because plenty of brewpubs sell growlers. There must be an endorsement.
Other License Types
There are several other liquor license types that I did not mention—restaurants, nightclubs, motels, specialty shops, grocery stores, and so on. What I have described above are the licenses that the vast majority of breweries use to operate their taprooms.
Also, I should note that a brewery could get creative with the available licensing types. Instead of operating a brewpub, they could operate a tasting room that offers food. A brewery’s satellite tasting room has the option of adding a restaurant license that allows it to sell other types of booze, for instance. There are a lot of options when it comes to licensing, so there’s some room for creativity.
You can learn more than you ever wanted to know about all of the different types of liquor licenses in Washington on this website.
OFFICIAL DESCRIPTIONS FROM THE STATE (including annual fee)
Microbrewery – Production of less than 60,000 barrels per year. $100.
- RCW 66.24.244; WAC 314.20
- To manufacture beer in Washington State. Allows a Microbrewery to sell beer and growlers of beer of its own production at retail for on and off-premises consumption and to act as a distributor for beer of its own production.
- May also sell beer produced by another microbrewery or a domestic brewery for on and off-premises consumption from its premises as long as the other brewery’s brands do not exceed 25% of the microbrewery on-tap offering of its own brands.
- May also sell cider produced by a domestic winery for on or off-premises consumption.
- There is a monthly reporting/payment requirement (WAC 314.19).
Tasting Room – Additional Location. No fee.
NOTE: This type of license was originally extended to wineries but not breweries. In recent years the law was changed and this license type is now extended to breweries as well. That’s why it says “wine” and not “beer.”
- RCW 66.24.170; WAC 314.24.161
- For additional locations separate from the production/manufacturing site.
- The licensee may:
- serve wine by the glass for on-premise consumption,
- sample and sell at retail, wine and growlers of wine of its own production for off-premises consumption.
- Limit of four additional locations per licensed production/manufacturing facility (“four” is not yet extended to breweries, but they’re working on it).
- Additional Privileges: Beer/Wine Restaurant
Tavern – Beer and/or Wine – No persons under 21 allowed at any time. Beer $200, Wine $200
- RCW 66.24.330; 66.28.360; WAC 314.02.070
- To sell beer and/or wine for on-premises consumption, either on tap or in opened bottles or cans.
- Persons under 21 years of age are not allowed on the premises at any time.
- Add-on Endorsement: Catering; Off-Premises
Public House. $1,000
- RCW 66.24.580
- To manufacture no less than 250 gallons and no more than 2,400 barrels of beer on the licensed premises, and sell beer and/or wine at retail for on-premises consumption.
- Public House licensees may not sell beer or wine to go.
- Public House licensees must apply for a Restaurant – Spirits, Beer and Wine license in order to sell spirits by the individual glass for on-premises consumption.