Several months ago, I wrote but didn’t manage to publish a column about how homebrewing was then illegal in Georgia and what we should do about it. I don’t know if it was The Power of The Press, a much-touted thing that I have only occasionally seen for myself (even to influence this column has had once or twice); but the law was changed before the column could run. Homebrewing is now legal in Georgia to the tune of 50 gallons a year for one’s own use. Federal law allows 200 gallons, but the state revenue folks assure me and anyone else interested that toward the bottom of their list of priorities; unless someone gets pretty flagrant in their disregard of the law, the 50-gallon figure is likely an arbitrary one. So, if you homebrew (and there are enough of you out here in Flagpoleland who do to support a local club called the Brew-52s), you can take your apparatus out of the basement or closet and breathe a small sigh of relief.
There is soon going to be a homebrew supply store open in Athens. I’ll clue you in when the owner-to-be gets all his ducks in a row. He turns out a pretty fine product himself: It actually tastes like it comes from a brewery rather than having that all-too-stereotypical “homebrew” taste; perhaps he will prove to be an avatar (that’s a high Hindu teacher, one whose influence goes on for a long time to come) and sooner or later if we are supportive enough maybe we can be among the first cities in Georgia to have our own brewpub or microbrewery when the state laws are changed to allow for such. (Actually, they do now, but the so-called three-tiered system disallows the manufacturer from doing its own distributing or retailing: You get the drift.)
Our law, actually a wise one at one time, was in effect a copy of New Jersey legislation that was designed to forbid “tied houses” in the New World. Where New York was settled largely by the Dutch, New Jersey’s first inhabitants (Please! The ones to come over on boats) were from The British Isles, and in that part of the world, then as now, a brewery or brewing conglomerate would tie itself to a group of pubs that sold their products―and no other. Of course there were “free houses” as well, but in the name of Private Enterprise, the solons of New Jersey put their law together, as one Colonial lawmaker put it, “so now all houses can be free.” New Jersey has begun allowing brewpubs and microbreweries simply by attaching “riders” to their three-tiered law that exempt anyone smaller than 1,000 barrels-a-year capacity from having to take any part in the three-tiered system. Another consideration is that they must also sell all or almost all of their output within New Jersey to qualify; this is so a few kegs and cases can be allowed to wend their way across the Hudson or westward into Pennsylvania, one of America’s traditional hotbeds of Weird Brands of Beer (yum).
Imagine bars where only one manufacturer’s brands of beer can be sold! I have only one: a roadhouse in Nashville where if you ask for anything other than Bud, you will be told to leave. That would satisfy some folks, but in Nashville there are die-hard Falls City drinkers now just like back before 1954 there were equally die-hard Gerst drinkers. And in Louisville, city of Falls City’s birth (it is now brewed in Evansville, IN), there were also (in recent times) Fehr’s XL (my friend Claire’s grandfather used to drink that one) and, right down the street Oertel’s. Each brand had its legion of drinkers, but as they aged and began dying off (not from drinking the beer, we can trust), all but Falls City failed to attract enough new drinkers to keep going. Ten, 15 years ago, the trend was more and more the major brewers’ getting the business, leaving the smaller ones either to adapt to die (which most of them did), but nowadays I see a reversal everywhere I go, with folks talking up the strange brands they saw in California or even Wisconsin. Seems to me that in 10, 15 more years that we will all (in most parts of the country) be able to drink fresh, local beer instead of having to rely on product, shipped in from Memphis, Tampa, Winston-Salem, Eden, Jacksonville, Albany, or even Cartersville. And I’ll be glad to see it, if I’m still here. That was quite a paragraph.
Sometime I’ll ramble on about microbreweries that made it and some that didn’t. There were noble experiments that failed in Sonoma, CA; Portland, OR; Chelsea, MI; Virginia Beach, VA; Novato, CA; Berkeley, CA; Little Rock, AR; and one guy in Albany, NY had found it cheaper to let the Utica Club folks contract out his brews than to do it himself. Along that line, some of the remaining regional and local brewers have a bit of excess capacity, so folks who want to brew up their own label and/or who have a formula can go to brewers in New Orleans; Tampa: Pittsburgh: Auburndale, FL; Evansville, IN; New Ulm, MN; Dubuque, IA; Wilkes-Barre, PA; Utica, NY; Monroe, WI; or several others on the West Coast to get their brewing done until such time as they construct their own plant, if this is even a part of their plan. This is called “contract brewing,” and is helping keep quite a few struggling smaller brewers running along more smoothly.
In the remaining space, let me get back to changes I see that need to be made in Georgia’s laws. I think the fundamental three-tiered system has worked well enough not to scrap it. Instead, I would propose a rider to it similar to New Jersey’s that would allow the opening of a microbrewery or brewpub (obviously enough, it must meet licensing requirements!) and for such to exempt the three-tiered law if their capacity is 1,000 barrels a year and less and if they agree to sell the bulk of their output in our Empire State of the South. None of the major brewers see anyone this small as any real competition. If anyone knows a legislator, you could get him or her to propose this as a bill. If we can get something like this passed in both houses, we can be enjoying brewpub and microbrewery beer in Georgia by this time next year, and if that’s not food for thought, nothing has been.
As for me, I’m gonna go home and drink a bottle of Market Street Pilsener that Susan brought down for me from Nashville and paint my teeth and go to sleep (that last part is an obscure Bob Dylan line). Prosit! (30.)