As Colorado’s brewers pull on their rubber boots and Carhartt overalls today, they’ll face yet another challenge to keeping the doors of their breweries open: working in the food business.
As of May 28, every beer maker, winery or distillery that wants to serve customers on site will need to offer food that is prepared by a licensed retail food establishment. That requirement is one of several that Governor Jared Polis has put into place as he allows the state’s food and beverage industry to slowly start moving again.
For brewpubs that already have kitchens, the requirement is not a problem. But since most breweries are straightforward taprooms that only make and sell beer, those businesses will need to forge partnerships with food trucks, caterers or nearby restaurants that can deliver on demand.
“It can’t just be bags of peanuts or popcorn or chips,” explains Shawnee Adelson, the director of the Colorado Brewers Guild, which advocates for independent breweries. It has to be made by a business with a local food license. In addition, breweries can’t rely on third-party apps like Uber Eats, and they can’t ask patrons to just show up with takeout food; there has to be an option to order at the brewery.
All breweries are still allowed to sell beer and/or food to go, and to deliver beer.
While the food rule will make things difficult for many taprooms, especially small ones that don’t get enough business to warrant a food truck, or those that are in remote industrial parks or other locations, the loophole is better than nothing — and “nothing” is nearly what the state had been prepared to do for breweries.
“It’s our understanding that without our efforts, breweries wouldn’t have been allowed to open at all,” Adelson says. The reason, she explains, is the state’s perception of consumer behavior: “The concern is that in a traditional bar setting, people are more apt to be mingling and moving around...but in a restaurant environment, there is the understanding that people come there to have food and sit down and remain seated.”
So the Guild was able to strike a compromise that would make the state comfortable. “We got them to focus on customer behavior, and that is part of the seating option," Adelson says.
Some taproom-only breweries, such as Halfpenny in Centennial, Ursula in Aurora, Raices Brewing in Denver, Coal Mine Avenue in Littleton and Joyride Brewing in Edgewater, were quick to announce that they would be open on May 28 with food options. Others, like Cerebral Brewing, Our Mutual Friend, Baere Brewing, Empourium Brewing, Comrade Brewing and Station 26 Brewing, all in Denver, have told customers that they are working on plans for the best way to reopen safely and within the rules. Many could open as soon as May 29.
The other reopening requirements basically mirror stipulations for restaurants: tables must be at least six feet apart, and capacity limited to 50 percent of normal capacity or a maximum of fifty people, whichever is less.
As a result, some breweries will operate with reservation-only seating, as their capacity will be significantly reduced. Others are taking advantage of temporary rules that allow them to expand their outdoor patios into parking lots, grassy areas or other nearby spaces in order to allow for social distancing.
All of these rules will continue through June unless Polis or individual city and county governments decide to make more changes.