Business

Independent Brewer Asks ‘What Ales You, L.A. County?’

David Robkin, owner of Wingwalker Brewery in Monrovia, is frustrated by red tape that the county health department has ordered on small businesses like his. – Photo by Terry Miller/Beacon Media News

Prohibition appears to be back, at least for some craft brews and taprooms

Los Angeles County had allowed bars to reopen on June 19. However, cases in the state have spiked in the weeks since. The number of new cases in California reached a new single-day record for the state on Tuesday, with 12,807 new positive cases, according to data from the state.

Restaurants are struggling to stay in business: From March to May, eating and drinking sales were $94 billion below anticipated levels, according to a survey by the National Restaurant Association.

However, it is not just restaurants that are hurting: It is bars, craft beer houses and tap rooms that really feel the heat of the pandemic shutdowns.

Recently, several states and counties have paused or completely reversed plans to reopen restaurant dining rooms, bars and taprooms as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take lives and almost cripple the economy.

The allowance for bars, taprooms and pubs to re-open was short-lived (about two weeks) and local brew houses are understandably “mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore,” to paraphrase the iconic character Howard Beale in the classic film “Network.”

As the film vividly points out, the “angry man” can galvanize the nation, persuading his viewers to shout out of their windows “I’m as mad as hell” when they find injustice and hypocrisy.

Some brewery owners are angry as their businesses are at risk of financial disaster if they cannot open. Investing a small fortune into their respective businesses, some brewers, like David Robkin of Wingwalker Brewery, think the pandemic health rules and regulations are inequitable to businesses like his. To open, Robkin would have to install a full kitchen, hire chefs, etc. and the list goes on.

In Monrovia alone there are four independent taprooms featuring craft beers but none sell food prepared on site, so they are left out in the cold while the supplies of the newly brewed amber nectar go south.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH), in a section titled “Justification,” wrote that a bar is “foundationally…a social setting where typically not only small groups convene, but also where groups mix with other groups.” The CDPH called bar settings “the highest risk sector of non-essential business currently open” and pointed to “a growing body of evidence tracing large COVID-19 outbreaks in both urban and rural states, to bars.”

Further justification includes: “Physical movement within the establishment, duration of time spent in the establishment, and the degree of social mixing within individuals and groups are all greater in bars than in other hospitality sectors,” the agency wrote. “Further, alcohol consumption slows brain activity, reduces inhibition, and impairs judgment, factors which contribute to reduced compliance with recommended core personal protective measures, such as the mandatory use of face coverings and maintaining 6 feet of distance from people outside of one’s own household.”

The CDPH also noted that bars are louder settings, and as patrons raise their voices, there is an increase in the projection of oral emitted viral droplets.

As a result, small, independent craft brewers in Monrovia have been forced to lay off workers and dump large quantities of the nectar loved by so many. However, the taprooms and breweries can sell beer to go.

According to a report from the Associated Press, “Many of the roughly 8,100 small independent breweries, which account for a 14% market share of all domestic beer by volume and 25% market share by dollars, rely on their own tap rooms or brew pubs to sell beer ‘on-premise’ to customers.”

Robkin, who owns and operates (until recently) Wingwalker, is frustrated by the prohibition slapped on independent breweries like his.

Despite the open and industrial feel of Wingwalker, and even though he has an outside patio, Robkin is forced to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Robkin wonders why the county health department is so stringent about microbreweries, pubs and bars that do not offer dine-in meals staying closed. “When I asked Supervisor Barger’s office about it, I was lied to. And when I pressed and was sent to L.A. County health, they dodged my question with a collective punishment during a pandemic response” Robkin claims.
Robkin has a suggestion that could possibly work under current county health guidelines. Robkin suggests having food trucks stationed outside the taprooms during business hours. This way, Robkin postulates, patrons get a chance to enjoy unique foods and craft ales all in one location and be physically distanced outside.

Our calls and emails to the county health department about the restrictions for craft breweries were not immediately returned.

“I truly appreciate that social distancing, transmission reduction protocols, and other essential social behaviors can tend to lapse when alcohol is consumed for its own sake,” Robkin said. “I am not trying to advocate for unsafe behaviors or unscientific standards in the face of a novel global pandemic. My only wish is that public policy on this matter is guided by the science of both infectious disease and economic health and applied uniformly and fairly across the county,” Robkin told Monrovia Weekly.

Wingwalker Brewery is located at 235 W. Maple in Monrovia and can be reached at (626) 720-1983.

July 23, 2020

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Terry Miller


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