I had a chance to pop in to visit the best thing to happen to Pomona, craft-beer-wise, since the Rookery opened downtown in the old Joey’s BBQ spot. Sanctum Brewing opened its doors a couple weeks ago, initially only Fridays and Saturdays. Now, Thursdays too. Eventually, they are likely to add Wednesdays (since they can).
The space is just east of Towne avenue, at Palm and Commercial just north of the train tracks. Located in the newly renovated Pomona Packing Plant, the history of the buildings includes housing stone fruit and citrus packing operations going back nearly 100 years.
Sanctum’s Jason Stevens and Scott Lucas acquired a pile of old pallets, and put many hours (days, actually) into reconditioning them as decor for their walls and bar. It looks great. As for the beer, the initial test batches include a mild, two blondes (one with apple), a dubbel, a chocolate stout, and an IPA. I would say very successful for test batches–clean flavors, nothing off (that I could detect). I did not get much apple from the blonde, but the plain one was fine and probably better off without it. With a tasting flight, I did not get to appreciate any one of the beers fully, so I’ll leave my comments on them at that.
From a Law.of.Beer perspective, I had enough curiosity to scan Pomona’s council records regarding the opening of Sanctum. The only thing that stands out from a legal perspective is that a zoning amendment was required before the brewery could operate in its location. The particular industrial zone did not allow for a brewery that served beer on the premises. After a non-contentious amendment, the city approved Sanctum’s CUP and here they are–a great addition to the city. Welcome, Sanctum!
This evening I had occasion to visit the 5-days-old Alosta Brewing in Covina, CA. They are Covina’s first microbrewery. (Nearby West Covina features a BJ’s that used to be a prominent brewing location for the company and remains licensed as a brewpub.) The opening process for the fledgling outfit has been long and painstaking, requiring a mid-game switch in locations, much negotiating, and a lot of waiting. After all, though, they are open for business and report a very successful first week so far. At least two local brewers were in the tap room sampling Alosta’s beer when I arrived.
Current offerings include a blonde, a British pale, a strong British pale, and a brown porter. Upcoming are an oatmeal stout and a saison. The brewers/owners include members of the Crown of the Valley Brewing Society, a homebrewing organization in operation since 1988.
While I stood in the tasting room, a call came in from a nearby pub requesting another keg of the blonde ale. In minutes, a keg was loaded and ready to move. “We can deliver a keg faster than we would be able to get a pizza,” one of the owners exclaimed.
In California, brewers can sell their beer to retail licensees directly without limit. Many states either do not allow this at all, or place caps on the amount of beer that can be self-distributed.
For a brewery just starting up, the ability to be immediately responsive to local retailers seems like an important benefit. As a brewery grows, self-distribution becomes less efficient. But in moments like the one I witnessed, it means the just-opened brewery’s beer can remain on tap through a busy Saturday evening at a popular pub with many great craft tap handles.
There are restrictions on the freedom of brewers (and other suppliers) to advertise the availability of their products at a particular retailer. For one, they generally cannot initiate the transfer of information–someone must request (such as by clicking “Find Our Beer” on a web page) the information first.
A California ABC industry advisory details one way that a brewer could advertise the availability of its product at a particular retailer proactively. §25502.2 authorizes (until 1/1/16, at least) a supplier to “employ or engage” a person to sign autographs for consumers at an off-sale retail licensee’s premises (a liquor store or bottle shop, for example), and to advertise in connection with the event, including the beer to be featured, and to list the name and address of the retailer in the advertisement. Restrictions include no pictures of the retailer’s premises, and the listing must be “relatively inconspicuous in relation to the advertisement as a whole.”
This privilege may be used twice per year per retailer and must be registered in advance with ABC. While limited, this could be an effective way for small breweries to engage with their local fans (the brewer(s) themselves could sign the autographs) and to announce the availability of their product at a new location (or just to raise awareness about pre-existing availability). If the brewer were to make a special release beer for the event (or make an already popular seasonal beer available first at the event), that may make it even more successful.
Small brewers ought to be able to just send out a Tweet whenever they’re newly stocked at a store or put on tap at a bar, especially those that only self-distribute and are available in limited locations. The market works better when consumers have full information with which to make their choices and there would be no risk of the harms the regulations seek to prevent. For now, though, they are constrained to making use of the limited exceptions such as the “autographing event” one mentioned here. Since it would cost little and foster relationships with local retailers, small brewers should try to make use of it while it is available!