With nearly 300 taprooms in the state, Virginia has the most breweries per capita in the southeast region and ranks 16th in the country for craft beer locations as of 2019, according to the National Brewers Association.
Each year, the $18.6 million industry brings tax revenue and tourism to the state and localities that house them and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry is not slowing down. According to Virginia Craft Beers Guild President Brett Vassey, 20 new breweries opened in Virginia in 2020 and only six closed permanently because of the pandemic.
With loosened Alcohol Beverage Control restrictions, many breweries credit their successes amid the pandemic to the new delivery permits which allowed businesses to package their brews and bring them to folks’ front doors.
“The ABC was incredibly gracious last year, with the allowing of a lot of flexibility, including curbside and delivery,” Vassey, of Richmond, said. “Almost all of our breweries are doing some sort of delivery and that’s working out well.”
Now, the General Assembly is considering several bills that if passed, could help local breweries in the years to come.
King and Queen County-based Dragon Run Brewing have been serving its signature craft beers for over a year and a half — much of its operation has been amid the pandemic.
As the only brewery in the region, co-owner Tommy Adkins said delivery was crucial when the state first locked down in March. For months, it delivered its beer to West Point, King William and King and Queen counties.
Now, Adkins said he is holding his breath, hoping HB 2266 makes its way through the General Assembly and to the governor’s desk.
If passed, the bill, introduced by Delegate Hala Ayala, D-Prince William, would allow localities to pass an ordinance that would allow them to designate 16 locations to serve as outdoor refreshment areas for up to three days in which people can open carry alcoholic beverages. The bill would also allow localities to petition the ABC to set up additional locations.
As a result, localities that hold local events and festivals could designate those areas as open carry and allow folks to drink in an area up to a half-mile, according to the proposed bill.
So, for Adkins, whose brewery rests on the outskirts of downtown West Point, the bill would allow him to offer up his brews at major events such as Crab Carnival and Christmas on the Town.
“The town could designate an area as an alcohol-friendly area, like for instance Crab Carnival, instead of having just the beer garden they could potentially do all of Main Street,” Adkins said.
For small-scale breweries, like Dragon Run, which do not have the same distribution capabilities, designating open refreshment zones would allow the company to compete with bigger brewing companies — which was not a possibility in the past.
Likewise, Williamsburg-based Virginia Beer Co. owner Chris Smith said the bill would be a tremendous step forward for not only his business but for the local restaurants that supply their beers across the city.
“For us, I mean it doesn’t directly affect us, because most breweries are in the type of areas that a locality would want to be an outdoor refreshment area, are not in central business districts,” Smith said. “It may not be a direct benefit to us but we know our restaurant partners have suffered so much so it’d be a direct benefit to them which is great for us.”
Smith said the proposed bill could serve as a domino effect. While it won’t directly benefit the business, it could potentially lead to more restaurant partners which would mean more distribution.
For nearly 10 years, the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild has worked to create a solid network of craft brewers across the state. The guild focuses heavily on promoting and sponsoring bills and lobbying against legislation that would be detrimental to the industry.
According to Vassey, HB 2266 has the backing of the guild, but there are several other bills to follow including HB 1845, introduced by Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, which will reform ABC licenses to allow breweries to continue delivering craft beers post-pandemic.
For a full list of ABC regulation bills, visit lis.virginia.gov.