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City planning staff is recommending the commission approve the proposed Culture Brewing Beer Tasting Room, which would be in the former Cork & Keg Bottle and Gift Shop building near Coast Highway 101 and E Street. Photo by Tony Cagala
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Tasting room on Planning Commission agenda

Item comes after commission pans alcohol establishments

ENCINITAS — A little over a month after the Encinitas Planning Commission signaled it would look at limiting alcohol sales along Coast Highway 101, the group must decide the fate of a beer tasting room in Old Encinitas.

City planning staff is recommending the commission approve the proposed Culture Brewing Beer Tasting Room, which would be in the former Cork & Keg Bottle and Gift Shop building near Coast Highway 101 and E Street.

The Solana Beach-based brewer currently operates tasting rooms in Solana Beach and Ocean Beach.

A representative from Culture Brewing said while he is concerned about the brewery’s ability to get a fair hearing in Encinitas given the anti-alcohol rhetoric, he feels that the tasting room wouldn’t cause the problems associated with bars and other establishments that have led to growing concerns in town.

“There is no way that this community will turn into PB (Pacific Beach),” said Steve Ragan, a brewmaster and co-founder of Culture Brewing, referring to the belief held by some residents that Encinitas’s coastal drag could become like the rowdy bar scene in the San Diego neighborhood. “Although there might be small windows of time where they appear similar, my business will not contribute to that at all, in fact it will be the opposite.”

The decision regarding the tasting room comes a month after the commission hosted a workshop in which they discussed the saturation of alcohol serving establishments in Leucadia, Old Encinitas and Cardiff-by-the-Sea along the main coastal drag.

Over the years, the increasing number of bars, restaurants and other establishments that serve or sell alcohol has become a controversial topic in Encinitas, as neighbors have complained about the behavior that the patrons cause, such as littering, drunken driving and other problems.

Commissioners agreed to study whether the city has enough of those establishments and whether it should set limits on how many more are allowed.

Currently there are 83 businesses along the six-mile stretch from Leucadia to South Cardiff that are licensed to sell alcohol; 69 of them are restaurants and bars that serve alcohol and beer on site, and 14 are mini-marts and other locations where alcohol can be purchased for off-site consumption.

City staffers told the commission that the State Board of Alcohol Beverage Control does have a process to limit the issuing of new permits in areas that are deemed to have an over-saturation of establishments, but the areas have to meet certain state standards, which include minimum crime rate levels.

City interim planning director Steve Chase said that staff could bring the information on whether the Coast Highway 101 corridor qualifies for such restrictions to the commission as early as February.

Culture Brewing Beer would sell beer for both on-site drinking — such as pints and sample size tastings of its various brews — as well as growler fills that can be taken to-go. According to the Culture Brewing Co. website, the company brews 44 varieties of beers.

The tasting room’s proposed hours would be from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., which Ragan said sets it apart from the late-night establishments that seem to be the source of the community angst.

“We’re not going to be open late, which is when you see most of the problems,” Ragan said. “I think are going to surprise the people who oppose alcohol licenses by the way we operate in the community.”

The Solana Beach location, he said, has had no issues in the community, has hosted over 100 nonprofit fundraising events, has featured local artists and has passed state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control inspections every step of the way.

“I have two great partners, and we know in order for us to have success, we have to be part of the community that we nurture and support,” Ragan said.

The clientele at the proposed tasting room, Ragan said, would be different from some of the locations known for having issues.

“It’s an older crowd, and they come really because they respect the craft of brewmaking,” Ragan said. “They aren’t there to get drunk, and our servers are trained to cut people off.”

Ragan said he is aware of the community concerns about the saturation of establishments up and down Coast Highway 101 that serve alcohol, but attributes much of it to a “vocal minority” that has the ear of the town’s elected officials.

“If it weren’t for this outspoken minority, I think we would have no trouble receiving approval,” Ragan said. “But they have put a lot of pressure on the town’s elected officials, they have a voice. Our objective is to really connect in a way that diffuses any concerns.”

Culture Brewing’s website has a link for the Encinitas location, which it says is “coming early 2017.”

The planning commission meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at City Council Chambers, 505 South Vulcan Ave.