In California, brewery tasting rooms have to serve meals, but winery tasting rooms don’t. Brewers think that’s unconstitutional.
A flight of beers is photographed in the taproom at the East Brother Beer Co. in Richmond, Calif., on Friday, March 3, 2017. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
Credit: MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images / Contributor/Getty Images

Beer and wine are clearly different: To start, one is made from malts and hops while the other is made from grapes. But do these distinctions really matter when comparing wine tasting rooms and beer tasting rooms? Aren't they both locations where customers can buy alcohol directly from the source?

The distinction—or lack thereof—is key to a new federal lawsuit filed by the California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA), alongside a group of California breweries, against Governor Gavin Newsom and California State Public Health (CDPH) Officer Sandra Shewry alleging that breweries are being treated unfairly because their tasting rooms must serve meals to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic while wineries do not.

According to the CCBA, when the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) updated its COVID-19 guidance over the summer, the state's 4,000-plus wine tasting rooms were suddenly given the additional privilege not having to serve meals, a change that didn't extend to the state's 1,050 breweries. "Even wineries that share a tasting room with beer manufacturers may continue to sell and serve wine to customers without food, while the beer manufacturer is prohibited from selling beer to the same customers in the same tasting room unless it also sells food," the lawsuit states according to the Sacramento Business Journal.

"To date, Defendants have not presented any valid basis for treating beer manufacturers different than wineries," the filing continues. Apparently, one of the few explanations the CDPH did give was that they "determined that mixing between greater numbers of people from differing households was more likely at breweries," the suit states.

"When it is time to begin the reopening of businesses in 2021, we need to ensure that a single industry is not arbitrarily divided based on unfounded assumptions," CCBA executive director Tom McCormick said, arguing that, in the eyes of usual CDPH policy, breweries and wineries are seen as identical manufacturing facilities. "We want to ensure that the craft brewing industry has the same privileges and the same pathway as other alcohol beverage manufacturers to reopen, re-employ and re-build next year."

According to the site Craft Beer Law Prof, the CCBA is asking the court to declare that the current discrepancy in the dine-in rule violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Constitution and to issue an injunction against the requirement.