Crossover Day passed this month in the North Carolina General Assembly. The deadline essentially determines which bills have a chance of passing this session. And two bills that Beer City, USA and its neighbors in Western North Carolina had its eye on made it through.
The House passed two bills - one which increases the size of growlers to more than a gallon. The other creating “social districts” in the state, which would let cities and municipalities allow drinkers to walk in restricted areas with alcohol. Richard Greene is the executive director of the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild.
“The North Carolina independent craft beer industry is very sizeable. We contribute over $2 billion to state’s economy. There are about 350 breweries in the state right now,” said Greene.
About 250 of those breweries are members of the guild, according to Greene. He explains how the "social district" legislation came about:
“It’s really something that was put together by the retail merchants. It was a way to expand the ability of towns and small businesses to be able to interact,” said Greene.
The pandemic was a bit of a mixed bag for the industry in North Carolina. Greene says about 40 new breweries opened during the pandemic while 20 closed in the state. He believes that was in part because of small breweries ability to pivot to takeout orders, working in parking lots and more.
“I think about breweries have adapted to the situation as it’s changed,” said Greene.
Leah Rainis, director of the Asheville Brewers Alliance, says the same is true in Western North Carolina, where there was a net gain of two breweries during the pandemic and several expansions. Breweries were able to re-open in May alongside restaurants.
“We’ve seen a lot of surviving and a lot of thriving during this, which has been great,” said Rainis.
The Asheville Brewers Alliance includes about 80 breweries from across the region. While it isn’t clear what the “social district” legislation might look like at this point, Rainis says that she believes all of the stakeholders would be able to work together to decide how it might work in Asheville.
“I don’t think anyone would be happy to see wasted zombie people in the streets or anywhere,” said Rainis.
She also has her eye on the section of the bill that would allow current pandemic-approved outdoor expansion to become permanent.
But there has also been a lot of pressure, as Rainis says it has often fallen on those working in breweries and restaurants to enforce mask mandates.
“I think on service industry workers, it's really taken a toll. The things that I have heard of being said to hostess, hosts, bartenders when they have been asked to put on masks because of the state mandate – it’s kind of horrific,” said Rainis.
Now that the mask mandate has been lifted, Rainis is curious to see what best practices from pandemic times will continue into summer.