Must Buy Food: How San Diego's Craft Beer Tasting Rooms Are Reopening

Brewpubs are part of phase 2 of California’s reopening plan, but, for now, patrons must also buy food while they’re grabbing a freshly-poured pint

After being shuttered for months due to the coronavirus pandemic, some of San Diego’s independent craft brewers have started reopening their tasting rooms with new rules in place, including the on-site sale of food.

Breweries are included in phase 2 of California’s reopening, folded into the same guidelines given by the state for dine-in restaurants. According to those guidelines, breweries, bars, pubs, craft distilleries, and wineries can now reopen so long as they offer sit-down, dine-in meals and follow the same safety measures as restaurant dining rooms.

While San Diego’s breweries have long partnered with food trucks to casually sell snacks and meals at tasting rooms, now, food sales are required. That means food vendors – including restaurants and food trucks – will be used at every local open tasting room these days, provided both businesses follow state guidance.

“Alcohol can only be sold in the same transaction as a meal,” the California guidelines state.

So, today, when craft beer enthusiasts visit a tasting room in San Diego County, they will also have to buy a meal.

Kris Anacleto, president of San Diego Brewers Guild, told NBC 7 some breweries will likely sell food vouchers alongside pints that customers can then cash in at an on-site food truck. Everything will be on one receipt.

“We’re seeing food truck sales on-site; we’re seeing some breweries partner up with pizza delivery services,” he explained. “Brewers are definitely getting creative with how they’re making it work. It just has to be a substantial meal; it can’t be a bag of chips.”

And that’s not the only change craft brewery patrons will have to get used to.

Under California’s rules, customers and employees are required to wear face masks. Just like at dine-in restaurants, those face coverings can be removed while a guest is seated and eating and sipping. If the guest gets up to go to the bathroom or walk to another spot in the tasting room, the face mask must be worn again.

Also new: social distancing and posted signs related to COVID-19 public health rules, just like the signs patrons are now seeing in San Diego’s restaurant dining rooms.

There won’t be up-close mingling at the bar top with others not in your household, either, so the social vibe of a brewery tasting room will feel much different these days than what craft beer fans might be used to.

“Guests can walk around if it’s with cause, but it’s not going to be like the normal bar atmosphere where you can just pop up and go hang out with somebody who you didn’t come with,” Anacleto explained. “It’s going to definitely create a very different experience.”

It's going to definitely create a very different experience.

Kris Anacleto, President of San Diego Brewers Guild

Anacleto runs Booze Brothers Brewing Co. in Vista and a satellite tasting room on Mission Avenue in Oceanside.

He plans to reopen the smaller Oceanside location first – this Friday – because that tasting room shares a wall with a restaurant, and the dine-in service part of the plan will be easier to execute.

“We have a food pass-through window,” he said. “So that part is set up already.”

For now, Anacleto said his Oceanside tasting room will be open on Fridays and Saturdays, until his crew can get into a groove following the new restrictions.

The brewer said one of the biggest changes at his tasting room will be evident on the craft beer menu board.

Because so many of San Diego’s craft brewers, including Booze Bros., have shifted to canning and selling beer to-go during the pandemic, Anacleto said he doesn’t have as much variety to sell on tap as he normally would.

Booze Bros. has been canning nonstop, and when California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that restaurant dining rooms and brewpubs could reopen, Anacleto realized they would have to start shifting some of the craft beer in the tanks over to kegs again.

So, in some cases, craft beer fans might run into smaller beer menus at tasting rooms, and both patience and understanding will be key here.

“That’s what I think everyone’s going to have to expect, is when you’re going into these tasting rooms, understand that you’re going to have to buy food in a way that you normally didn’t have to,” Anacleto told NBC 7. “And you’re going to look up at that menu board and some of your favorites aren’t going to be available right away.”

Those favorite suds might still be available in cans, though, since some brewers will continue offering online ordering options and curbside or drive-up pickup service of canned brews. “It’s not going to be same experience; it’s impossible for it to be,” Anacleto added. “I think we all just have to stay patient in getting it to work.”

So, which tasting rooms are open again?

Well, longtime San Diego favorites like AleSmith Brewing Company and Green Flash Brewing Co. have reopened. Smaller but mighty spots like Kilowatt Brewing and Helix Brewing Co. are open again, too.

The San Diego Brewers Guild is keeping a running tally of which local craft brewers have reopened here, and which are offering other options like curbside pickup. Some breweries have modified hours, too, so it’s best to check that brewery’s website before heading there.

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🙌🍻 We are excited to announce that we are ready to welcome you back to our tasting room! We will be reopening to the public starting 3pm on Wednesday, May 27th! ⁣ For 25 years, AleSmith Brewing Company has been dedicated to genuine hospitality through 5-star customer service, which includes taking care of our staff so they can take great care of you. ⁣ The health and wellbeing of our Grand Crew staff members and guests are our top priorities. We are approaching the reopening of our tasting room with this as our guiding principle. ⁣ In addition to all safety procedures currently in place for beer to-go purchases, curbside pick-up, and local delivery service, we are implementing the following policies when we reopen: ⁣ 🔸 We will greet you with a (masked) smile. ⁣ 🔸 If you have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, we kindly ask that you remain at home as we will politely decline entry to ensure everyone's safety. ⁣ 🔸 Temperature will be taken upon entry (contactless via thermometer gun) – both customers and employees. ⁣ 🔸 Hand sanitizing stations will be at all entry/exit points of the tasting room. Please use them as you enter or exit the facility. ⁣ 🔸 Masks are required to be worn everywhere within the tasting room except when seated at your table. ⁣ 🔸 All touch points within the tasting room will be extensively cleaned and sanitized. ⁣ 🔸 Food options will be available to our guests through our initial partner, Zoe's Place. A meal must be ordered to be able to enjoy beer with us. ⁣ 🔸 6 per group MAX including kids. ⁣ 🔸 Please do not move tables and chairs. ⁣ 🔸 Please practice social distancing with people outside of your table's party. Respect the X's on the ground when in line. ⁣ 🔸 Only 8oz and 16oz pours will be available (no tasters, flights, or sips). ⁣ 🔸 Dogs will not be allowed entry at this time. ⁣ 🔸 No growlers from home at this time. New growlers will be filled, crowlers available for to-go fills. ⁣ 🔸 Brewery tours have been suspended. The Anvil & Stave + Tony Gwynn Museum will also be closed temporarily. ⁣ 🔸 No tour buses at this time. ⁣ We're in this together! Please be patient and kind while we adjust to the new "normal." 😊 ⁣

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Anacleto said growlers and crowlers can still be filled at breweries. In fact, with the local industry shifting to to-go sales over these past couple of months, he said growlers have seen a resurgence in popularity.

“Draft beer is king,” he added.

He said he expects it to be a while before people are back in tasting rooms at normal capacity, so the business of beer to-go will likely stick around.

Per health guidelines, reusable growlers will need to be washed and sanitized by the brewery in a sink prior to refilling it. Taps will also be disinfected after filling the reusable growler, according to the SDBG’s website.

'Resilience': San Diego's Craft Beer Community Weathers the Pandemic Storm

A few months back, as the coronavirus pandemic hit San Diego County, Anacleto told NBC 7 that if any industry could adapt and get creative during these tough times, it was the local brewing scene.

He was right.

Though the industry has been hard-hit by the economic fallout of the pandemic, Anacleto said he’s been in awe of how his fellow brewers have “just made it work.”

“How resilient everyone has stayed; they’ve just kind of kept it going,” he said. “Not a lot of people want to sit outside for 5 hours on a Saturday, underneath a tent, hoping someone’s going to buy some beer to-go. But, that’s something, thankfully, our industry has made happen and we’ve had the customer base to really show that support and keep it going.”

He said local brewers have kept production steady in unsteady times, rolled out new cans, and have gotten creative with their set-ups. In some cases, they’ve moved cold boxes and refrigerators out to the front of tasting rooms to make it easier for patrons to grab beer to-go.

Those stories of perseverance – of the people, not just the beer – are the backbone of San Diego’s craft brewing industry. And those stories are being shared by the San Diego Brewers Guild through a social media campaign dubbed #IAMSDBeer.

Guild members just want people to know they are in this for the long haul – for the passion of brewing.

“Rather than promoting product and your brewery, it’s more of, ‘Hey, this is who’s behind the brewery; this is who it’s affecting; this is a part of something you don’t normally see,’” Anacleto added.

The San Diego Brewers Guild, founded in 1997, is made up of more than 150 craft brewers who work to promote the independent industry that has made a huge name for itself in America’s Finest City. Learn more about the guild’s members here.

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