If you’re reading this post then you are probably already homebrewing and waist-deep in a sea of homebrewing equipment and ingredients. As a fellow homebrewer I thoroughly understand the fascination, if not obsession, with the hobby. I know that some people work in businesses where there is some open space and sometimes brewing occurs during or after work hours on the work premises. Naturally, this often also means homebrew is served somewhere on the worksite. So is this legal? No…and there are some good reasons why employers should be cautious about permitting brewing on their business location.
First of all, let’s clarify the term “homebrew” and why it probably shouldn’t apply to our discussion. If it isn’t brewed in a residence where the brewer lives then it isn’t homebrew. No home, no homebrew. Federal and Texas law prohibits brewing of any kind in any place unless a license to brew or an exception exists by law. Both federal and Texas law provide licenses for commercial breweries to manufacture and sell beer. Similarly, both federal and Texas law provide an exception for homebrewers to brew one hundred gallons of beer per adult in a household, up to two hundred gallons for a single household, within the residence of the household for the purposes of consumption by those within the household. (There are also additional exceptions under federal and Texas law that permit the transportation of homebrew for the purposes of brewing competitions, organized tastings and so forth.) If you do not have a license or meet an exception by law then your brewing is unlawful. If you are brewing on commercial property and that property is not covered by TTB and TABC licenses for brewing then it is extremely likely this brewing is unlawful. If the brewing is unlawful then you may be putting yourself, whether you are an employee or the employer, at risk for some unpleasant consequences at the hands of the TTB and/or TABC.
Aside from the brewing licensing issue, there are other legal risks involved with brewing in a non-brewery setting on commercial property, particularly for the employer. First and foremost, the brewing equipment may violate OSHA safety requirements for either the operation of the brewing equipment within the business premises or the operation of the brewing equipment around hazardous compounds or equipment. The same goes for local building codes, local health codes and so forth. It would not take much for a local code enforcement officer to bring a lot of problems to the employer for letting brewing occur within the premises of the wrong kind of business. One surprise audit could be all it takes.
An additional concern for the employer, and the employees, is the risk of injury to one or more people in the workplace caused by the brewing equipment. Sure, brewing equipment is generally safe when reasonable care is taken by the brewers but in a busy workplace that may not always be the case. Even in home settings where the brewer might have plenty of quiet space to brew, accidents happen and injuries follow. In the workplace, there is a risk that an injury leads to a workers compensation claim and/or lawsuits against co-workers. For those of you who might be reading this and see this as just another lawyer dreaming up extreme situations I will tell you this is not as extreme as you might think. When I hear about people brewing at work it is often in a warehouse or manufacturing space. The kind of place where, say, a forklift might be in operation. A forklift operator is moving pallets near the brewing equipment. An employee moves out of the way to avoid the forklift and knocks into the boil kettle and spills boiling wort on himself, scalding himself. If you know even a little about the infamous McDonald’s coffee case then you know scalding hot liquids can be a big problem. Not to mention dropped carboys shatter in dangerous ways.