Brouhaha over new Aspen brewery
ASPEN ” City Hall’s clamp-down on beer tasting has put a buzzkill on the Aspen Brewing Co.’s plans to serve up homemade brew on the premises.
The brewery, set to open next month at 557 N. Mill St., plans to have a tasting room so patrons can sample the product. But because of city regulations, how much beer can be served has become an issue.
Community Development Director Chris Bendon last fall alerted the owners of the brewery that because their operation is in the Service Commercial Industrial (SCI) zone, a bar and restaurant are not allowable uses.
A tasting room could be interpreted as a bar, depending on how much is served and if the atmosphere entices people to drink and hang out watching sporting events on television, Bendon said.
Bendon sent a letter to Duncan Clauss and Brad Veltman, owners of the brewery, on Jan. 2, informing them that they can’t serve more than 16 ounces of beer to one person on any given day. That would permit a sampler of four four-ounce beers, or two eight-ounce glasses, or one pint.
Those numbers are based on maintaining a potential blood alcohol content of .05 percent or less, Bendon wrote.
“We understand the importance of the general public becoming familiar with your product, witnessing the brewery process and being able to meet the brewers,” Bendon wrote. “We agree that the ability for customers to sample beers is consistent with the general public’s perception of a brewery and should be allowed.”
And because televisions in the brewery are part of their plans, Clauss and Veltman have been asked to not air sporting events and instead use them to show promotional videos about beer-making.
“Showing ‘the game’ on television may be perceived by the public as creating a bar atmosphere,” Bendon wrote.
Clauss and Veltman are appealing Bendon’s interpretation of the rules related to the SCI zone to the City Council. A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 25.
“We’re trying to go through the right processes to get this resolved,” Clauss said. “Obviously we see this differently and we don’t think it’s something that should be a big issue but it is a limiting factor for our business.”
The council can opt to make the rules less restrictive, more restrictive or follow Bendon’s interpretation.
Clauss said breweries that specialize in creating craft brews all have tasting rooms, where the brewers are on hand to explain the process and what ingredients are used in each concoction.
“We don’t know any other breweries that are limited,” Clauss said. “And I don’t think we are doing anything different than other breweries.”
He added that the Aspen Brewing Co. has no intention of becoming a bar, and instead plans to operate like a vineyard where people sample the product and talk to the winemaker.
“We’re just bummed because it’s something that limits what we can do and how we run the business,” Clauss said, adding he understands that Bendon is just doing his job and is playing it conservatively. “We’re not trying to pull one over on anyone and we’re not angry at the city … We just don’t agree.”
Complicating the matter are expected code amendments to the SCI zone district, which are going through public review starting next week. The Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to review issues related to the SCI zone next week and the brewery’s permitted uses are likely to become a topic of discussion.
“It’s all converging at once,” Bendon said, adding the restrictions won’t prevent the brewery from opening.
Bendon is amenable to the brewery’s proposed tasting hours, which will be noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
The Aspen Brewery will operate with a manufacturing/wholesale license, meaning it doesn’t follow state or city liquor laws, which forbids liquor sales at retail outlets on Sundays. The difference is that Aspen Brewery is manufacturing a product and selling it wholesale.
The license applies across the board, so whether a thirsty customer wants to sample beer at the brewery’s tasting room or take some home in a growler (a beer-to-go glass bottle), he or she can do it seven days a week.
The manufacturing license also made the Aspen Brewery an eligible tenant in the SCI zone, which was created decades ago by the city government as a way to keep local-serving businesses alive in the resort town.
The brewery’s business plan calls for the majority of sales to come from distributing their brews in local restaurants, bars and liquor stores throughout the valley.
The SCI allows no more than 25 percent of the floor area devoted to retail sales, offices, showroom or customer reception.
The brewery is a permitted use is under the SCI rules, which describes such a “business as a facility for the production and packaging of alcoholic malt beverages for distribution.” That description suggests that type of use doesn’t generally attract the public or engage in retail sales.
Bendon said the definition of “brewery” indicates that the retail component of the operation is accessory to the primary use, which is to produce and package beer for off-site consumption.
Clauss said he hopes he and his partners can successfully convince the City Council to lift the restrictions, especially since they are paying a premium to be in Aspen. They signed a three-year lease in a 2,000-square-foot space owned by a group of investors that includes local attorneys Ron Garfield and Andy Hecht.
Further exacerbating the brewery’s challenges have been construction delays ” the establishment was set to open in mid-December.
“It’s stressful and we are learning as we go,” Clauss said. “We know everyone is anxious and we are 100 times more anxious to get it open.”
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