Starting Sunday, the beer will flow like wine in Virginia.
Thanks to a change in state law, breweries across the state will be allowed to sell visitors full glasses of beer, even if they don't have a restaurant on site.
The General Assembly passed legislation this year changing the state law after a lobbying campaign by Virginia's burgeoning craft brewery industry. State law previously allowed breweries without restaurants to serve only free samples to their guests and sell closed containers for off-premise consumption.
The change puts breweries on the same footing with Virginia's farm wineries, which are already able to serve glasses of wine.
It's a welcome change for a growing crowd of craft beer fans who like to visit small, independent producers of specialty beers such as Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond, Starr Hill Brewing Co. in Albemarle County, and Devils Backbone Brewing Co. in Nelson County and Lexington.
"I think it's wonderful that it [the law] passed – it should have passed a long time ago," said Sonja Tremblay, a member of the Richmond Beer Lovers Meetup group who was enjoying samples of some brews at Hardywood on Thursday, along with her husband, Pierre.
Under the law, there is no limit on the amount of beer that breweries may sell, but they must abide by the same laws as other ABC licensees in the state. That means they must refuse service to intoxicated or underage patrons.
Craft brewers and other supporters of the new law say it will encourage tourism, create jobs at small breweries, generate sales tax revenue and help Virginia compete with other states for investments as the craft beer industry grows nationwide.
"The biggest change for us is going to be the general dynamic of what a brewery visit entails," said Eric McKay, co-owner of Hardywood Park, which opened last year and, like many other breweries, has a tasting room that is open several days a week where visitors can try samples of the latest craft brews.
"In Virginia, the (law) has been that you could come into a brewery and have a two-ounce sample or a couple of samples and maybe buy a growler on your way out," McKay said. "In other states, and even at wineries in Virginia, the dynamic has been much more inviting and encouraging for visitors to come in and visit the brewery or winery."
With the change in the law, Hardywood is expanding its tasting room schedule from three to four days a week and adding hours, which means it likely will need more staff to serve visitors, too.
"Our costs will go up, but we hope we will be able to make the tasting room a more effective source of cash flow," McKay said.
The new revenue source that comes with charging customers for beer should help start-up breweries establish themselves, said Mike Killelea, a brewer at Legend Brewing Co. in Richmond and chairman of the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild, a group that lobbied to change the law.
"It is another revenue stream, and it is going to help them get through those early, lean years," he said. "I think you will see quite a few new breweries opening up."
Among the new craft breweries being planned for the Richmond area is Center of the Universe Brewing Co., which brothers Chris and Phillip Ray are planning to open this fall on Air Park Road in Hanover County.
"The craft brew market has been growing steadily for a long time now," said Chris Ray, an Ashland resident who is also a professional baseball player. "We have been wanting to do this for a long time."
With the new rules in effect, "we might have a different batch of beer for on-site consumption every week, so people can come in and try different recipes," he said. "There are going to be a lot of different styles and different flavors coming out."
The economic impact of the change is unclear at this point, but breweries and tourism officials see an opportunity to attract more visitors into the state on beverage- and food-related treks.
"One of the things that we are working towards is positioning Virginia's wines, brews and spirits all together," as a promotional tool, said Tamra Talmadge-Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Tourism Corp.
"From our national tourism research, what we see is there is a strong interest for visitors to experience local flavor, whether it be wine, craft beer or culinary (foods)," she said. The Tourism Corp. also wants to cross-promote Virginia beverages and foods to people who come to the state for its outdoor recreation.
Virginia has more than 220 wineries, and its craft brewing industry is growing, too. The state had 37 craft breweries in 2010, according to research by the Brewers Association, a national group. Virginia brewers say the number is now more than 40.
About 250 craft breweries opened nationwide in 2011, and sales of craft beers grew 13 percent by volume and 15 percent by dollars, the association reported.
With the change in the law, Starr Hill Brewing Co. in Albemarle County is planning to open an expanded tasting room, said Mark Thompson, the brewery's owner. "We estimate we will hire between 10 and 15 more employees," he said.
Steve Crandall, owner of Devils Backbone Brewing, which has a brewpub in Nelson County and a recently opened production plant in Lexington, said he, too, expects to hire more staff.
"I think (job creation) is one of the reasons why the legislature got behind it and the governor's office got behind it," Crandall said.
The change in the law won't have a direct effect on businesses such as Legend Brewing Co. in Richmond, which serves its beers at a restaurant adjoining its brewery. But David Gott, vice president of operations at Legend, said he hopes it will help Virginia become more competitive when it comes to attracting new breweries.
Gott noted that Virginia has lost out in the recruitment of several breweries in recent years. In January, for example, Chico, Calif.-based Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. said it would build a new East Coast brewery near Asheville, N.C.
The company had been considering locations in Roanoke and Montgomery counties in Virginia.
"I think it is going to help the industry quite a bit" in Virginia, Gott said.