Beer and wine associations in the state made a pitch to serve a drink at no cost to COVID-vaccinated customers, and the state regulators have granted their request.
But at least one Spokane-area brewer believes the move by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board designed to encourage vaccinations and help businesses organize vaccine clinics could send the wrong message.
The board is temporarily allowing businesses with liquor licenses to offer a beer, wine or cocktail at no cost to customers who can prove they’ve been vaccinated.
The board’s allowance was requested by wine and craft beer industry representatives to boost vaccinations through events such as pop-up vaccine clinics.
“It’s just a new option that’s temporary for these breweries that might be interested in supporting the community effort behind the vaccination push, especially leading up to the June 30 reopening,” said Annie McGrath, executive director of the Washington Brewers Guild.
Other businesses in the state have been offering vaccinated customers a free coffee, slice of pizza or ice cream. Prior to the state Liquor and Cannabis Board’s allowance, it was more restrictive for breweries to provide incentives or participate in pop-up vaccine clinics because of state law, which requires liquor licensees to sell beer, wine and spirits at or above cost.
“Before the liquor board ruling, it was a little bit more restrictive on how to provide incentives that other industries do,” McGrath said. “Because laws surrounding alcohol are tricky to navigate on the compliance end, it was hindering some of these programs. (The temporary allowance) allows brewers to be creative with events and promote them to the public.”
Since March 2020, the state Liquor and Cannabis Board has suspended enforcement of some rules and laws, allowing businesses to sustain operations during the pandemic by selling to-go cocktails with food service, among other things.
No-Li Brewhouse owner John Bryant said industry representatives appear to have good intentions behind the push for more vaccinations via pop-up clinics, but changing alcohol-related laws – even temporarily – might set a bad precedent.
Providing alcohol at little or no cost to customers could reduce businesses’ financial strength at a time when they are emerging out of the pandemic. There’s also a level of responsibility that comes with serving alcohol, he said.
“If you start giving away alcohol, does it take away the responsibility factor?” he said. “We believe in responsibility with a cultural product like craft beer. We believe it can be a healthy part of a culture, but we need to be careful if we start giving away alcohol at little or no cost.”
Bryant said he’s spent more than 30 years in the beer industry educating people about responsible and moderate enjoyment of beer and alcoholic beverages. He added the state Liquor and Cannabis Board has done a “great job upholding education and disciplined guidelines.”
Participation in the board’s allowance, which is in effect until June 30, is optional for liquor-licensed businesses, including restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries, according to the agency.
Customers are limited to a single drink, which would be purchased by the business or an organization. Businesses determine the window of time between the vaccination date and when the drink can be redeemed.
The Liquor and Cannabis Board is asking businesses not to refer to the beverages as free or complimentary because state law prohibits the promise of free liquor in advertising or as part of a promotion.
The new allowance comes as more businesses are partnering with local health agencies to host vaccination events.
Brick West Brewing, the Downtown Spokane Partnership, the Washington State Department of Health and the Spokane Regional Health District partnered to host a pop-up vaccination clinic Tuesday with live music, prizes and a ticket for $1 beers for those receiving a vaccine.
Meanwhile, Maryhill Winery is planning to host a “Vino for Vaccines” event at its Kendall Yards tasting room in partnership with the Spokane Regional Health District, Maryhill owner Craig Leuthold said.
The winery will utilize an unused space in the tasting room for people to receive vaccines to be administered by the health district. Those who receive a vaccine also will be provided with a certificate for a glass of wine at no cost to them, Leuthold said.
The pop-up vaccination clinic likely will be available 9 a.m.-3 p.m. daily, but additional details – including a start date – will be announced in the near future via the winery’s social media accounts, Leuthold said.
“We are trying to capture customers who haven’t had time to get a vaccine and we are trying to make it more accessible for people, so we can reach herd immunity goals and get the economy fully back open,” Leuthold said.
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