It’s Saturday afternoon at Cahaba Brewing Company in Birmingham. Twenty-seven-year-old Emily Wignall is clad in Auburn colors and enjoying a beer with some friends. Wignall is also accompanied by her two Golden Retrievers and her four-month-old daughter.
“Anna Robin, my daughter, she loves noise,” Wignall says. “She sleeps better when there’s a lot of chaos going on around her.”
Wignall says she loves the fact that she and her husband can enjoy time out of the house without worrying about finding a babysitter.
Breweries in Alabama have been described as the new coffee houses, but with beer. All are welcome to come play games and hang out with friends. But bringing both human and canine kids to a brewery means keeping it low key.
“You have to pay attention to them,” Wignall says. “I mean I have to make sure I’m taking care of [the dogs], and taking care of [the baby]. And, it’s nice when you can, kind of, bring everyone out together. The dogs don’t have to just sit at home by themselves. You know you can, kind of, all come together and be in this big open space and hang out.”
Breweries started really taking off in 2011, a time when millennials like Wignall were coming of age and later starting families. They’re the ones you see most often at breweries with their kids. The changing culture of breweries isn’t exclusive to Alabama. Breweries all over the country have become more family-friendly in recent years.
Eric Meyer is brewmaster and managing partner at Cahaba Brewing. He says seeing kids at a brewery in Alabama is still pretty jarring for some people “because there is such a context about how beer, alcohol is such a negative thing. And that’s been a struggle with us since the beginning. You know a lot of people are like, ‘Can I bring my kids here? You guys are a bar.’ We’re not a bar we’re a brewery.”
In the eyes of Alabama law, breweries fall into a gray area between manufacturer and retailer. They can only sell the alcohol made on site, kind of like wineries. This allows breweries to be more family-friendly. It’s an interesting idea given that less than 100 years ago the federal government banned alcohol for moral reasons. Meyer says they have had complaints about the dogs and kids. And he understands why some people might be uncomfortable, but that they’re not going to change their policy.
“We just want to be able to create an environment where anybody is welcome to come in any way they are,” he says. “Whether they have a dog or not, whether they have a kid or not, we want them to feel comfortable. And I think that’s kind of the environment that we’re trying to assume.”
Carie Partain is president of Free the Hops, a grassroots organization that championed the craft beer movement in Alabama. As a mother of two, she loves having a place where both adults and their children can go and play games like Cornhole and Giant Jenga. And she says breweries give parents a chance to teach their kids about responsible drinking.
“I think that is a smart way to educate young people coming into the world of alcohol that it can be done responsibly,” she says. “It must be done responsibly. And to see that modeled is probably I think, very key in my mind.”
Rules for kids and dogs vary. Some breweries only allow dogs outside. Some don’t let children in after certain hours. And to be clear, no brewery in Alabama lets minors in without an adult. Folklore Brewing and Meadery in Dothan has a strict 21 and over policy. Jeremy Pate is owner and brewmaster. He declined to be interviewed for this story, but said in an email the no-children rule is for safety. Dogs, however, are always welcome. Cheers!
Note: Cahaba Brewing and Free the Hops have each been occasional sponsors of WBHM programming. WBHM’s business and news departments operate separately.