FORT PIERCE — Open. Closed. Open. Closed. Open. Closed.
Sailfish Brewing Company in Fort Pierce was ordered by the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation to shut down its taproom for on-premise consumption on Saturday night — for the third time during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s our turn on the DBPR carousel,” according to the brewery’s Facebook post.
Sailfish closed its taproom in March at the beginning of the pandemic locally and later reopened, said Taylor Welchel, the brewery’s brand manager. It then was shut down again June 26 but reopened two days later because The Crafted Pie is located inside the taproom.
“We were being given a special exception because we have a fully licensed, operational kitchen and restaurant putting out food that we could open as well, even with separate licensing,” Welchel said.
Sailfish Brewing Company in Fort Pierce was ordered by the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation to shut down its taproom for on-premise consumption on Saturday night — for the third time during the coronavirus pandemic. In this photo, Danielle West (left), tap room manager, talks with her customer Jay Weeks (right), of Jensen Beach, inside the taproom on Wednesday, May 20, 2019. (Photo: ERIC HASERT/TCPALM)
Since its last reopening, she said, Sailfish had two visits by armed agents from the state department’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco to make sure the brewery was following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for sanitization and social distancing.
The agent who visited Saturday night explained special exemptions were being pulled, she said.
“It all comes down to what license you have,” Welchel said. “It doesn’t matter if we have food or not; it’s what license is there.”
Breweries without on-site restaurants, such as Walking Tree Brewery in Vero Beach, have taken advantage of outdoor food trucks in its four years so the business could focus on making beer.
Walking Tree recently announced a new beer named @halseybeshears Pub Ale, hoping to create “an open dialogue” with state Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears, according to a July 8 Facebook post.
“While we are aimed at keeping everyone safe, our closure is confusing,” according to the post. “Beer is treated as food and we sure do sell a lot of that! So why aren’t tasting rooms included in remaining open for business?”
The Tallahassee Beer Society released a podcast Saturday morning that included an interview with Beshears, who suggested entrepreneurial brewers find a way to evolve and make it work through the rest of the year.
Some breweries have been adding food and quickly getting the licenses to do so, Beshears said. The thinking behind the food component was people would sit down to eat and not congregate at a bar.
His department had received complaints about both breweries and bars with photographs of hundreds of people gathered, Beshears said. He admitted there’s collateral damage for breweries following the rules, but they didn’t police themselves the last time they were permitted to be open.
“Nobody wants to turn anybody in,” Beshears said. “We had to shut it all down.”
The podcast also included an interview with Pete Anderson, co-owner of Pareidolia Brewing Company in Sebastian, about the guest column he wrote for the Tallahassee Democrat regarding the state’s craft beer laws and how they need to change to save the industry — which was growing before COVID-19 but now is struggling.
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The closure is going to be tougher for Sailfish this time around, Welchel said. When the brewery closed its taproom the first time and changed to takeout service, she said, everyone had to close.
“There was this overwhelming wave of support for local businesses,” Welchel said.
Now that businesses are reopening, people are going back to work — and they aren’t going to be sitting at home drinking during the day and the week anymore, she said. Plus, with restaurants open, it’s easier for people to drink there.
“I believe our to-go sales are going to be close to half of what we had before,” Welchel said, “and what we had before was barely hanging on.”
It’s a ripple effect throughout the business, she said. Taproom employees were laid off again. The marketing team doesn’t have anywhere to sell. The production team still is brewing beer, but it’s half the beer it should be brewing because bars are closed. It also has a lot of beer it needs to sell because it started brewing again when it was allowed to reopen.
Welchel wants breweries to be pulled out of “the shame corner” where bars have been put, she said.
“I don’t think it would be really difficult to differentiate what’s a brewery and what’s a bar,” Welchel said. “Breweries brew their own product.”
Sailfish is looking into its options, Welchel said, including getting the brewery’s attorney involved, as well as obtaining a food license to sell beer.
“At this point, we have to,” Welchel said. “There’s nothing else on the horizon. Get your food, or it’s over.
“Now, every brewery in the state of Florida is just going to be another restaurant.”
Laurie K. Blandford is TCPalm’s entertainment reporter and columnist dedicated to finding the best things to do on the Treasure Coast. Follow her on Twitter at @TCPalmLaurie or Facebook at faceboook.com/TCPalmLaurie.
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