Outfitted with a pair of binoculars, an ALE agent parked across Haywood Road from Altamont Brewing at about 2:30 a.m. the morning of Feb. 18 (a Wednesday) and watched as the brewery’s bartender cleaned up and drank what was later determined to be Altamont’s porter.
The ALE agent advised the bartender that it was against state law to drink while working. The agent then sent a violation report (Altamont_Brewing_violation_report_2015) to the ABC Commission for possible action. The issue was taken up at the commission’s meeting on July 15 in Raleigh.
The commission ratified what’s known as an “offer in compromise” and gave the business until Aug. 7 to pay a $1,500 fine or begin serving a suspension of its ABC permits beginning Aug. 14. An offer in compromise (Altamont_Brewing_offer_in_compromise_2015) is an agreement where the permit holder admits that the stated violation occurred and agrees to the penalty (fine/suspension) that the commission requires, according to a commission spokeswoman.
The action is the latest example of stepped up enforcement this year on the part of N.C. ALE officers working for Special Agent in Charge Stacy J. Cox in ALE’s Asheville office. The office has approximately five agents who work a 16-county area in Western North Carolina and enforce the state’s alcohol laws.
Agents in Cox’s office have also taken the following high-profile action this year:
-Race to the Taps: In early spring, N.C. ALE agents had discussions with nine local breweries about potential violations of alcohol law governing cooperative advertising around the much advertised Race to the Taps running series. Produced by the Asheville Radio Group and Kick It Events, the running series started and ended at Highland Brewing, Asheville Pizza and Brewing on Coxe Avenue and Merrimon Avenue, Pisgah Brewing, Catwaba Brewing, Oskar Blues Brewery and Sierra Nevada Brewing, Green Man Brewery, Twin Leaf Brewery and Wicked Weed Brewing. After discussions with the breweries and their attorneys, no warnings were issued.
-Beer City Festival: On May 30, five N.C. ALE agents descended on the annual Beer City Festival on Pack Square Park in downtown. The agents alleged numerous violations of state alcohol law, including brewery owners and employees drinking beer and then serving beer to festival attendees. ALE agents also alleged witnessing drug use by attendees (two people were charged with smoking marijuana at the event) and seeing intoxicated alcohol permit-holders. Nearly two months after Beer City, ALE agents wrote 10 violation reports, which they submitted to the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission for possible action. (The ALE noted that it could have made written criminal violations that would be handled by state courts and not the ABC Commission, but decided to submit only the ABC violations.) That action could have potentially serious consequences, ranging from a simple written notice to a fine, a suspension or a revocation of an ABC-issued permit. The 10 breweries cited were: Oskar Blues, Southern Appalachian Brewery, Boojum Brewing Company, Foothills Brewing, Green Man Brewing, Oyster House Brewing, Pisgah Brewing, Nantahala Brewing, Altamont Brewing and Highland Brewing.
-Burning Can Festival: On July 17, N.C. ALE agents notified organizers of the Oskar Blues Burning Can beer festival near Brevard that 16 breweries invited to participate didn’t have the proper permits to serve alcohol. The notification came just hours before the event was set to start. Oskar Blues officials decided to refund all ticket-holders their money and turn their event into a free beer festival, which included outdoor activities like mountain biking and river paddling, as well as top musical entertainment.
On July 10, Western North Carolina craft brewery owners and their representatives met with Cox and representatives of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (Chief Administrator Bob Hamilton and Chief Legal Counsel Renee Cowick), as well as two attorneys from the Asheville office Ward and Smith (Derek Allen and Hayley Wells). About 60 people in all gathered at the Mill Room to meet and talk about the N.C. ALE enforcement actions. The meeting lasted about three and a half hours. Allen described the gathering as an “unprecedented” meeting of the brewery industry and leaders with ALE and ABC.