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Pandemic rules loosened for California breweries, wineries and distilleries

Breweries, wineries and distilleries will soon be allowed to operate outdoors statewide — even if they don't serve food — in the latest loosening of California's coronavirus business restrictions.

Business as usual, however, will remain a distant concept, even in the most lenient category of the state's four-category reopening plan.

At establishments located in counties that are in either the purple or red tier, the two strictest, patrons will be required to make reservations and be subject to a 90-minute time limit, and on-site consumption must stop by 8 p.m., according to new state health guidance that is effective Saturday.

Those businesses can begin to open indoors as their home counties progress further, though capacity will be limited to 25% or 100 people, whichever is fewer, in the more lenient orange tier; and 50% or 200 people, whichever is fewer, in the least-strict yellow tier.

Breweries, wineries and distilleries that do serve food will continue to be governed by the same rules applied to restaurants.

The guidelines on outdoor service put breweries and distilleries on the same footing as wineries, which have been allowed to conduct outdoor tastings without food since July. The trade group representing California craft brewers sued Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state’s health officer in December, alleging the rules requiring brewery customers to buy a meal before they could consume beer on their premises were discriminatory.

Despite the relaxation of restrictions for some alcohol-serving establishments, bars that don't serve food will remain completely closed in the purple and red tiers.

However, those can reopen outdoors with modifications in the orange tier. Effective Saturday, bars will be able to open indoors in yellow-tier counties, with capacity limited to 25% or 100 people, whichever is fewer.

While the new guidance clears the way for counties to toast the additional reopenings, it remains to be seen whether local health officers will go as far as the state allows.

It was not immediately clear Thursday night whether Sonoma County, which remains stuck in the purple tier but where wine is the largest industry, would follow the new guidance.

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