YAKIMA – After years of planning, partners Ty Paxton and Zach Turner opened Single Hill Brewing Co. in downtown Yakima last month.
They say the decision to make the venue family-friendly was part of the plan all along.
“You can’t just open your doors and sell beer. You need to open your doors, serve beer and be thoughtful of your customers,” said Paxton, who became a father three months ago. “A very large segment of the craft beer (customer) demographic are younger adults with kids.”
Inside the taproom, there’s a children’s area with various puzzles and books. Outside, there’s plenty of room for children to run around, as well as games, including a large-scale Connect Four. In response to a suggestion from other new dads, there’s a changing table inside the family room so mothers and fathers can be on diaper duty.
The brewery even offers diapers and other supplies for those who left the diaper bag at home.
In other words, if you’re a brewery, finding ways to make the children who won’t be drinking a single drop of beer happy is a good business strategy, according to Single Hill’s owners.
It also helps that state liquor laws allow children in brewery taprooms, said Derrick Nordberg, owner of Cowiche Creek Brewing Co. in Cowiche.
Eric Radovich, executive director of the Washington Beer Commission, said roughly 70 percent of the nearly 400 breweries in this state are family-friendly.
Most make the move so they can accommodate more customers who simply want to enjoy a pint or two with friends and family in the neighborhood.
“You don’t always want to have to get a baby-sitter to get a single beer,” he said.
But it’s not enough to just allow them to come inside.
Single Hill offers a variety of non-alcoholic beverages alongside the brewery’s tap list. The brewery offered other options for non-beer drinkers from the get-go. But when Paxton found that many children weren’t so hot on the shrub – a soft drink made with carbonated water and flavored vinegar-based syrup – he sought more conventional items such as juice.
Varietal Beer Co., which opened its Sunnyside taproom earlier this year, found that children enjoyed the brewery’s snacks. The most popular are Takis – spicy tortilla chips shaped in skinny rods – and Japanese-style peanuts, which are coated in wheat flour and dried.
Roberts quipped that he’d like to offer more healthful snacks but that he’s up against current health regulations.
“We don’t have a food handler’s permit or a snack bar license,” he said. “It limits what we can serve right now.”
But Roberts has been working on finding new ways children can be entertained during their visit. A wall where young visitors can draw with chalk has been so popular that he is considering painting the smooth concrete at the building’s foundation with black chalkboard paint.
He’s also looking at increasing board game options, including for the youngest of visitors. “At home, I have some board games specifically for 2- and 3-year-olds,” said Roberts, who is the father of a 2-year-old son.
At Cowiche Creek Brewing Co., Nordberg made sure to add a water feature and pond on the brewery grounds. On a warm day, it’s not unusual to find more than a dozen children playing there.
“Sometimes kids dictate what the family does,” he said. “If we can provide a place where they’re having just as good of a time as their parents, then we’re successful.”
There’s one indication that the Cowiche brewery has been successful: “We have more birthday parties for kids at the brewery than adults,” he said.
Of course, brewery owners know that some may not like having children around or even may have grave concerns about children being around alcohol.
Breweries are not comparable to a bar or tavern, Radovich said. Most breweries generally close by 9 p.m.; many close earlier.
“I think it’s not any different than to going to a restaurant (that serves alcohol),” he said.
Generally, most people who visit a brewery taproom have a pint or two of beer or simply want to do a tasting, he said.
Roberts noted that in other countries, especially in Europe, children are more accustomed to seeing parents enjoy a pint of beer or glass of wine alongside dinner or while out with friends and family.
And craft beer is about enjoying the flavor and taste of the beer, not getting drunk, he said.
“If kids are going to learn to drink responsibly (when they’re older), they need to learn by seeing their parents drink responsibly,” he said. “It’s not something taboo or dirty.”
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