Dogs and cats will be welcome again at North Carolina breweries starting Sept. 1 under a bill signed into law Monday by Gov. Roy Cooper.
However, breweries will have to take a step before allowing owners to bring their four-legged friends inside.
Since late 2018, the Forsyth County Department of Public Health has stepped up enforcement — primarily because of customer complaints — of a state food code that bars pets from craft breweries and taprooms. The law had been on the books for several years but was largely unenforced.
Even though they often don’t have kitchens, craft breweries, taprooms, public bars and ale houses have been included in the food-services code that applies to restaurants, meaning the same rules apply to both.
Currently, neither dogs nor cats are allowed inside any establishment that is required to get a permit from its local health department or that serves drinks in glasses that are washed and reused. In order to allow dogs and cats inside, disposable cups have to be used.
The N.C. General Assembly combined Senate Bill 290 and House Bill 536, which deal with alcoholic-beverage regulations, to create an exemption for breweries if the brewery “is not engaged in the preparation of food on the premises. ... The term ‘food’ does not include beverages.”
“The state is currently working on a position statement for this bill,” said Joshua Swift, Forsyth County’s health director. “Facilities currently under our regulation would continue as is and would not allow dogs back in bars if they chose to maintain their permit.
“However, if currently regulated facilities meet the definition of a ‘brewery’ and do not prepare food on the premises,” Swift said, “they could request the permit to be revoked and the facility would be exempt from our regulation, allowing dogs (and cats) wherever they want.”
Dan Rossow, the taproom manager for Wise Man Brewing on North Main Street in downtown Winston-Salem, said Tuesday that “we look forward to welcoming dogs back into our taproom on Sept. 1, though we are in the process of developing a list of rules to make sure that their reintroduction into our space goes as smoothly as possible.”
SB290 also gives distilleries the same serving privileges as wineries and craft breweries, while reducing regulation on out-of-state sales.
“Distilleries are expanding North Carolina’s reputation for craftsmanship and drawing visitors to cities and towns across our state,” Cooper said in a statement. “This bill will help small businesses continue to thrive.”
The state food code was amended by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2016 to allow dogs and cats to be outside, such as on patios and in beer gardens, as long as they are on leashes.
In February, Wise Man began circulating a petition on www.change.org to get the law changed. That petition got at least 500 signatures and was sent to local governments in Forsyth and Guilford counties.
The petition said the regulation treating “non-food-serving breweries and taprooms as restaurants is inadequate and inappropriate.”
Rossow said it’s not financially feasible for the business to use single-use beverage containers.
“This regulation leads to the unintended consequence of barring well-behaving and previously welcomed canines from these establishments,” the petition continued. “This petition simply asks to lift the regulation barring animals inside the premises of non-food-serving taprooms, and to be enforced at the discretion of taproom management.”
Jamie Bartholomaus, a co-owner and the president of Foothills Brewing Co. in Winston-Salem, said Tuesday that Foothills’ restaurant policy will not change.
“We will likely allow dogs in some capacity in our tasting room, and certainly on our patio as always,” Bartholomaus said.
Foothills’ downtown brewpub on West Fourth Street has an extensive menu. Its tasting room and main brewery are on Kimwell Drive, off of South Stratford Road.
Service animals and police dogs are exempt from the rule and allowed inside all establishments.
There are concerns that creating an exemption for craft breweries in the state food code could open the door to restaurants and other food outlets requesting that animals be allowed within indoor-dining areas.