Announcing that you plan on grabbing a liquid lunch might earn you some odd looks from your co-workers. But if you live in Virginia, it’s not a big deal. The state’s health department currently classifies beer as food—though probably not for long.
The Culpepper Star Exponent recently reported on the grievances of breweries in the state that have come under the watchful eye of the Virginia Department of Health. Apparently, the health department is asserting their authority over brewers based on their definition of food as “a raw, cooked, or processed edible substance, ice, beverage, or ingredient used or intended for use or for sale in whole or in part for human consumption.” Brewers, for their part, find the restrictions a bit ridiculous.
“If you interpret a beverage as ‘food’ and therefore a (brewery as a) restaurant—it's a pretty big leap for us and the implications are pretty significant,” said Brett Vassey, the executive director of the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild. “One potential is requiring us to store our grain under refrigeration—that's tons of grains that would have to be refrigerated like a soufflé.”
A bunch of brewers have taken their argument to the state legislature, where at least one official agreed with their point. “I had not heard about the requirement for grain being refrigerated,” Senator John A. Cosgrove Jr. stated. “That’s kind of silly.” It seems that most people agree that if a brewery doesn’t serve any food, the health department doesn’t need to be involved, especially since Virginia’s agricultural department already oversees breweries.
Oddly, Virginia’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service had previously come to an agreement with the health department over the regulation of wineries, but a similar deal for breweries had been left out. However, since there are obvious parallels, it seems a similar deal for brewers (and distillers, too) will be coming to the state soon.
The moral: Virginians, eat your beer while you still can!