Visalia City Council approves new rules requiring taprooms that allow underage patrons to provide family friendly activities
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – When Barrelhouse opened in Visalia over a year ago, residents cheered the taproom for pouring youth activities into the mix of craft beers and live music.
The City of Visalia believes in Barrelhouse so much it’s decided to make everyone else raise their glasses to a new set of rules modeled after the business.
At its Aug. 6 meeting, the Visalia City Council amended the zoning ordinance for the microbrewery district regarding underage patrons. Under the new rules, taprooms may only allow people under the age of 21: If they are accompanied by an adult at all times; offer games, activities, non-alcoholic beverages and snack foods; devote at least 20% of their indoor area to games and activities; as well as prohibit children from being at the business after 10 p.m. and from sitting at the bar or serving counter.
The rule only applies to businesses with a type 23 license. Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC), the licensing agency for alcohol permits, defines type 23 as a non-retail, non-restaurant micro brewery or brew pub that produces less than 60,000 barrels of beer per year for draft purchases at a taproom and produces bottles for sale by retailers. Unlike other ABC licenses, type 23 taprooms allow people under the age of 21 without providing food or non-alcoholic drinks for its customers.
Since opening last summer, Barrelhouse was and is the only type 23 licensed taproom in the microbrewery district that encompasses the eastern portion of downtown between Santa Fe Street and Ben Maddox Way. Kids can be seen playing a game of cornhole as parents enjoy craft brews while waiting in line for a food truck in the lawn patio area behind the building on Main Street. Teens often drink sodas next to parents with pints while listening to live music.
Barrelhouse is currently the only business operating under a type 23 license in the City of Visalia.
The issue was brought to the Council’s attention at a Feb. 5 study session where the Visalia Police Department raised concerns over the idea of having people under 21 in an establishment that’s primary purpose is to sell alcohol. Lt. Brent Abbot with the Visalia Police Department shared those concerns with the Visalia Planning Commission in June. Abbott, who has 27 years of law enforcement experience with the Visalia Police Department, said “bars and nightclubs have always been a problem.” He also said underage drinking has always been a problem in Visalia, as evidenced by a recent decoy operation where four of 13 establishments were caught selling alcohol to minors. He acknowledged that Barrelhouse was not among those establishments and has never been cited for underage drinking, but also noted not every taproom that locates in the district would provide those underage options without a permit requiring them to do so.
“Limiting the time and requiring activities for minors is very important to maintaining that family friendly atmosphere,” Abbott said.
Paul Schiebel, principal planner for the City of Visalia, said the purpose of the item on the June 11 agenda was to clearly establish the criteria for a taproom to be considered “family friendly.” Schiebel told the Commission, “Barrelhouse is our standard for a good operating business.”