Stepping into a brewery can be an assault on the senses. The smell of roasted malts fills the air. Patrons bustle from their benches to the bar to order another cold beer. Taste buds explode as copiously hopped IPAs pass the lips of the thirsty guests. The air is filled with squeals of laughter and delight as children conquer a board game while their parents sample a flight of brews.
Wait – what? Kids?
At first glance, that last example may seem out of place. But more and more, children are becoming staples of breweries across the country, and the breweries of Hampton Roads are no exception.
“We view our tasting room as a social setting,” said Dale Price, tasting room manager at Benchtop Brewing in Norfolk. “We want to be inclusive of the whole family.”
Not everybody, however, is thrilled with this development.
David Hunter founded the Facebook group “Fans of Virginia Craft Breweries” in March 2013. With more than 11,000 members, the group is dedicated to covering a spectrum of beer-related topics. While the vast majority of the back-and-forths are civil, Hunter says when the subject of kids in breweries comes up, the conversation can go south quickly.
It has become one of the most divisive topics discussed in the group, a trend found on countless craft beer message boards and comment sections across the internet.
“It’s a subject where you either feel one way or the other, and regardless of what side you are on, your heels are dug in,” Hunter said.
Much of the opposition to children in breweries comes from people who liken breweries to bars. While both serve alcohol, local breweries have embraced the European tradition of pubs and beer gardens as communal gathering places. They are not bars or clubs, which serve liquor, have extended hours, and have garnered reputations as rowdy adult playgrounds.
Other people are simply looking for some quality adult time without the noise and distraction of children. Whether they have kids or not, breweries offer a serene environment for adults to kick their feet back and enjoy a few pints. Children do not always fit into these plans, and can often leave a bad taste in visitors’ mouths. Many of these experiences lead to negative reviews of breweries that can be found around the internet.
Despite the protestations, it doesn’t appear breweries will be changing anytime soon, as more and more look to create a family-friendly
atmosphere. The younger crowds that have been flocking to breweries either have kids already, or will start having kids soon. Business-wise, it makes sense to attract this customer base.
Puzzles, coloring books, and children’s games can be found at many breweries, giving youngsters
something to do as their parents enjoy a beer.
Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery in Goochland has a playground on its 290-acre farm for kids to burn some energy while their parents sit at a picnic table and sip fresh, crafty beer. Breweries have also begun to brew nonalcoholic root beers for their underage customers, including Big Ugly Brewing Company’s Otter Beer and ’s Lil Po.
Random Row Brewing Co. in Charlottesville has taken its family-friendly business model a step further, recently touting the brewery as a kid-friendly destination on social media. Providing tables with toy trains and a chalkboard wall, and offering juice boxes, chocolate milk, and snacks, Random Row on Instagram proclaims: “You SHOULD bring your babies to the bar.”
Many brewery owners are also parents of young children, so offering a space for adults to kick back with their kids makes sense to them.
“We remember having young kids and not having places we could go to where we could be grown-ups, but also be with our kids,” said Aaron Childers of Big Ugly Brewing Company.
The debate may continue to rage in taprooms and on computer screens across America, but regardless on which side you fall, it appears the kids are here to stay.
“There will always be kids and there will always be breweries,” Hunter said. “I think a little empathy on both sides can go a long way.”