It was early on a snowy Sunday afternoon at Modist Brewing Co. in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A historic winter storm had dumped 20 inches onto the city, clearing out grocery stores and closing some businesses. The roads were passable, however, so while flurries blew around outside, inside the brewery things were hopping.
Among the clinking of glasses and adult conversation, a bulldog and a terrier-mix sniffed introductions to each other while along the street-facing windows, a few toddlers were sitting in a circle playing with blocks and a ball. The place had a jovial mood as parents, happy to be released from the confines of the house, sipped on pastry stouts and lagers, and kids explored new terrain.
The growth of breweries and taprooms in the United States has brought on new phenomena and challenges. One that seems to be getting a lot of attention—both good and bad—these days is the topic of kids in a brewery. Those who support the practice are usually parents and grandparents who were visiting breweries long before the kiddos came along and see no problem in taking their kids to a community space. The other side of the coin is people who say kids have no place in a brewery and that if parents want to be out and have a drink, there are plenty of restaurants where that’s just fine—just not where it’s made.
Then there’s the middle ground where folks don’t have a strong opinion so long as kids are safe, parents are responsible, and everyone can still have a good time.
Adults-Only or Kid-Friendly?
First, while most parents won’t like this, it’s a brewery’s right to decide its policy on kids. Obviously, no one under twenty-one can drink, but it goes beyond that. Not every brewery is safe for kids. Remember, these are industrial spaces, with concrete and sometimes slippery floors, sharp corners, heated elements, and all manner of things that, as adults, we’re more aware of and know how to avoid.
For the breweries that decide to make their taprooms kid-friendly (state laws permitting), certain things should be communicated—such as appropriate hours, prohibited items (ahem, Play-Doh), and reasonable social behavior by both parents and children. “At this point, there are a lot of breweries that are having conversations about not just safety but values,” says Caitlin Jewell, the cofounder and co-owner of Somerville Brewing Co. (Slumbrew) in Massachusetts.
Slumbrew has three locations in the greater Boston area, and each has a different policy regarding kids. Its summer beer garden, built out of cargo containers, has an entire unit just for kids to play in. At Assembly Row, a restaurant, there is one section that is made for families and a separate one for folks looking to eat without the company of kids. And then at the Boynton Yards Brewery, “we have a changing table and a baby-friendly [culture],” but as kids get older, this location isn’t particularly suited for them.
In fact, at the VIP dining room, a space reserved for parties, the brewery has prohibited birthday parties for anyone celebrating between the ages of two and twenty. Nearby at Idle Hands Craft Ales, kids twelve and younger are allowed with an adult but are discouraged from being in the taproom after 7:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. That’s the other part of the conversation. Responsible parents aren’t likely to have their kids out late, kids at breweries are an afternoon thing, and the parents need to, as we all do, keep consumption in check.
Knowing How to Behave (We’re Looking at You, Parents)
Matt Van Wyk, the brewmaster at Alesong Brewing & Blending in Eugene, Oregon, and a father of two, recognizes both the benefits and pitfalls that come with allowing kids in a brewery. Alesong is a destination spot, 20 miles from town, and Van Wyk wanted to make sure that everyone felt welcome when they came for a visit. When the brewery first opened, he brought a basket from home filled with balls and Frisbees and other things with which kids (or adults) could entertain themselves. Still, not everyone gets the playful message all the time.
Coming to work on a recent Monday, Van Wyk was met by one of his business partners who relayed a story about a troublesome 4-year-old who, after spending some time throwing rocks at the brewery walls, proceeded to urinate on the patio.
“A lot of that is kids being kids,” he says. “But the parents should have stopped the behavior when it first happened and noticed things, such as that he needed to use the bathroom. That’s my biggest thing when it comes to kids in breweries. There’s a partnership with parents where the brewery should have a few things that are inviting to families. I’m not saying it should be Chuck E. Cheese’s, but something. And then parents need to take responsibility for watching their kids and entertaining them. Breweries are not just a babysitting place.”
Overall, he says, the people who visit the brewery with kids are responsible and are teaching the children proper social etiquette. “Whether it’s an Applebee’s or a brewery, the lessons the parents teach on how to act responsibly in public are important.” Other brewers echo Van Wyk and also say that while they are happy to accept kids during reasonable business hours and might have some toys or other things, it is also up to the parents to make sure the kids have items to keep them occupied—be it a rattle, an iPad, a deck of cards, or a coloring book—because “kid-friendly” doesn’t necessarily mean all the amenities of a daycare center.
Then there are breweries that go full in on the kid experience. At the appropriately named Family Business Beer Company in Dripping Springs, Texas, there’s a large, well-lit, 50-foot by 50-foot play area with three slides and a mini rock-climbing wall for kids visiting the brewery with guardians.
“We wanted to be the one stop for craft-beer enthusiast families,” says Gino Graul, the brewery’s general manager. “We wanted to have something for the kids to be as excited about as their parents.”
It’s a similar (although maybe a little smaller) scene at Crooked Hammock Brewery in Lewes, Delaware, where there’s a full play set for kids in the yard. Santa even visited the brewery last year, giving kids a chance to put in their requests while Mom and Dad were able to avoid the mall.
It’s also important to point out that adults aren’t left out of the fun. It’s not uncommon to see board games, from Monopoly to Cards Against Humanity or table games such as Jenga and Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots that are for grown-up use and merriment.
Deciding to Change
While some breweries open up, especially these days, and decide to go the kid-friendly route from the start, at others, it was a slow burn to the decision. Clay Robinson, the co-founder and co-owner of Sun King Brewing Company in Indianapolis, recounted his brewery’s history with allowing kids into their original location, their flagship brewery downtown.
“When we opened our Fishers [Indiana] taproom on the north side of town, it was in a total neighborhood, so it made sense to go the kid-friendly route. And the same is true for our Carmel [Indiana] taproom, soon to open,” he says. When we opened in 2009, downtown was a different place, and a lot of the people who fell in love with our brewery in the early days were single or didn’t have kids, and now they do. And we’ve seen revitalization downtown, and there are more families, so it just made sense.”
In order to allow children into the brewery, Sun King needed to abide by a state law that says the brewery must have a two-way license (meaning wine is available) and a food component. Last summer, with the installation of a restaurant, kids were welcome with guardians.
The brewery’s announcement gave them a big boost on social media. More than 40,000 people interacted with the brewery over the course of a week. Most were thrilled, or at least understanding of the change. Only about nine percent, says Robinson, who recently became a father for the first time, were angry about the change.
“The anger died down after a week or two. Now kids at the downtown brewery is the new normal, and our Sunday business is better than ever before because of the families coming by.”
Beyond the Brewery
The family-friendly beer experience isn’t limited to the brewery anymore. This summer, The Trustees of Reservations, a Massachusetts-based conservation and preservation nonprofit group, will partner with Salem’s Notch Brewing to create pop-up biergarten experiences in the nonprofit’s outdoor parks, farms, and cultural sites in the Greater Boston area. The program will be held on weekends from May through October.
“The biergartens will be located at scenic spots on each property and will offer a range of engaging activities to highlight the site’s unique features, including live music, lawn games, scavenger hunts, and Notch’s signature Meters for Liters 5K fun runs,” according to a press release.
A Personal Decision
Like Robinson, I recently became a father for the first time. Despite having visited more than 1,300 breweries before my daughter came along, I never gave the kid situation too much thought. Personally, I always liked seeing families spending time together in a community-minded space. Only once at a brewery did I have an incident—some kids playing tag hit our high-top, spilling beer and giving the kid below a shower. The parents were apologetic, embarrassed, and bought us a round. They quickly left with their crying child.
Beer is personal for so many of us, and brewery visits have been a part of our collective experiences for quite some time, so for enthusiasts, it seems only natural that we want to take our kids along. I’ve enjoyed introducing my daughter to new foods and seeing her experience new environments, new music, new art, and maybe making a temporary friend. It was also a little heartwarming when Departed Soles Brewing Company, the nearest brewery to our house, gave my daughter a bib with their logo and “Baby’s First Brewery” written on it. I smile every time we use it, remembering that first afternoon we ventured out of the house with our new baby.
But I know kids-in-breweries isn’t for everyone. There’s still room for civil discourse, and as one brewer recently told me, “If I want to drink where I know kids won’t be around, I can always go to the bar.”
This article first appeared in Craft Beer and Brewing Magazine.