The debate over dogs in breweries may be a moot point: The Mecklenburg County Health Department says a state code rule forbids dogs from being in taprooms.
The conversation started last Friday, when Three Spirits Brewery published a Facebook post saying a health inspector from the Mecklenburg County Health Department came by after receiving a complaint about dogs in the brewery’s taproom.
“Some not-so-great news for our dog owning friends at Three Spirits Brewery,” the post said. “Effective immediately, we will not be able to allow dogs in the taproom of our brewery. … We still love your dogs, but from now on, they will have to stay on the patio when you come to visit us at Three Spirits.”
Anyone who’s spent time at breweries around town knows how common it is to see dogs in taprooms. But according to the health department, brewery taprooms are bound by the same food service codes as restaurants, which means that dogs are not allowed inside. The one exception: service animals.
“It’s something that everybody pretty much thought was OK and have been doing forever,” said Tabu Terrell, founder of Three Spirits Brewery. “We’ve never had anyone complain about the dogs to us directly. We didn’t know it was an issue.”
Since the post on Friday, fans of the brewery have voiced their displeasure on the brewery’s Facebook page. Some have called for clarification.
Lynn Lathan, an environmental health supervisor at the Mecklenburg County Health Department, confirmed that any brewery with a food establishment permit is not allowed to have animals inside. Even though Three Spirits Brewery and other breweries rely on food trucks, they are still permitted as food establishments because they must wash, rinse and sanitize multi-use glassware.
The North Carolina Food Code Manual contains more information in Section 6-501.115 on page 178 (see image). Restaurants and bars that are permitted as private clubs are exempt from this and other restrictions.
Given this, will we see a citywide crackdown on dogs in breweries?
“We don’t send people out looking for animals,” said Lathan. “It’s just another part of the inspection, just as the other things on the sheet are. We don’t have the staff to send them out just looking for animals.”
What they will likely do going forward, said Lathan, is put together a handout reminding brewery owners of the rules.
Lathan thinks the winter weather plays a part.
“We believe that a piece of the reason we’re seeing this more now is that it’s become en vogue to have your animal with you all the time and to travel with your animals with you all the time,” said Lathan. “We’ve had warm weather for so long this year, we believe that people are sitting outdoors with their animals and now that it’s turned cold, people are taking them inside.”
We’re watching to see how Charlotte’s breweries will respond. Like many local breweries, NoDa Brewing Co. receives its fair share of canine visitors. President Suzie Ford hopes that can continue, but is waiting to hear back from the person who did the brewery’s inspection last year. In the meantime, she wishes that the health department could permit breweries differently than restaurants.
“They don’t understand that we’re a little bit different,” said Suzie Ford. “We’re not a bar. We’re not a restaurant. They only have basically their health code rules, and that’s what they kept trying to put us in.”
If the inspector confirms that dogs are not permitted in the brewery’s taproom, Ford said that NoDa Brewing will comply.
“We obviously want to follow the rule of the law,” she said. “Bottom line: We will comply with the law if she responds back that that is the case.”