New law lets you drink beer in a parking lot...sometimes

"We got wind of the new legislation early last year."

With changes to the state bureau of Alcoholic Beverage Control law, expect to see a lot more brewery parking-lot events like this one at Port Brewing and the Lost Abbey in San Marcos.
  • With changes to the state bureau of Alcoholic Beverage Control law, expect to see a lot more brewery parking-lot events like this one at Port Brewing and the Lost Abbey in San Marcos.
  • photo by Davis Gerber

Brewery anniversaries are getting bigger this year, and it has everything to do with a new state law. Effective January 1, AB 776 permits breweries to sell beer "on property contiguous and adjacent to its licensed premises for special events," up to four times per year.

Mike Hess Brewing North Park

3812 Grim Avenue, North Park

A brewery's license allows it to serve beer within its defined property boundaries. The new rule lets breweries physically extend the boundaries of its license to cover immediately surrounding property, such as a parking lot.

Winemakers already enjoyed this privilege, but because it wasn't specified for beer manufacturers, breweries were ineligible. “[A state Alcoholic Beverage Control bureau] license is permissive," explains Mike Hess Brewing founder Mike Hess, "You can only do it if it says you can do it."

Hess ran into this problem three years ago while organizing his brewery's Hess Fest anniversary party. "I went up there to see if I could extend my license premises for one day into the parking lot," he says. After being refused, he says he appealed to the California Craft Brewers Association for help.

"Quite a few of our members were interested in using parking lots," confirms craft-brewers’ association executive director Tom McCormick, who successfully lobbied the state bureau to adopt the new rule. McCormick points out that prior to AB 776, breweries had to find work-arounds to serve beer at special events.

"In the past," he says, “the festivals you'd see were nonprofit licensed events." A brewery could donate beer to a nonprofit, which could then secure a one-day license to serve it.

This is what Hess did, working with the San Diego Music Foundation to obtain a special event license to host Hess Fest outside his North Park tasting room. Consequently, the festival was split in two, with Hess-licensed beers being served inside, Music Foundation–licensed beers served outside. Beers could not pass between, and the ABC even sent undercover investigators to test the rule. According to Hess, "They had a cute gal talk to a guy at the front door, then had somebody with a beer try to walk through the gate into the festival grounds."

Ironically, Hess may stick with the work-around, as the new permitting still does not allow him to serve guest beers, whereas the nonprofit license does. However, other local breweries have enthusiastically embraced the increased space the new measure provides.

The Lost Abbey

155 Mata Way #104, San Marcos

Port Brewing and the Lost Abbey marketing director Adam Martinez says, "We got wind of the new legislation early last year and have been super excited to finally see it come to fruition." Lost Abbey plans to use all its allotted license expansions this year, including for a tenth-anniversary party at its San Marcos brewery May 21st.

Kearny Mesa breweries Societe and Council Brewing will also do so for their respective fourth and second anniversaries, both scheduled June 11th. "Last year we held our anniversary celebration over three days…to help spread out the volume of customers," says Council co-owner Curtis Chism." He adds, "The parking lot event will allow us to host many more people…and have a single day blow-out."

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