For months, Georgia craft breweries have been lobbying to amend an antiquated Prohibition-era law barring them from selling beer directly to the public. As Flagpole explained last month:
Georgia is the only state among our Southern neighbors still forbidding craft breweries from selling directly to consumers. Small breweries are allowed to flourish in such progressive wonderlands as Alabama and South Carolina. Florida is closing in on a half-century of the sort of relaxed regulations that Georgia continues to balk at adopting, and the pro-brewery climate in North Carolina has enticed major breweries, bringing economic development and jobs to that state. Not so in Georgia.
In fact, Georgia is one of five states remaining where breweries cannot directly sell beer, either packaged or across a bar. The beer offered visitors to Terrapin or Creature Comforts is technically a free sample accompanying a purchased glass. No one’s confused about what’s happening; breweries are left to utilize a loophole to satisfy the market, in effect selling 32 ounces of beer, says John Cochran, president of Terrapin. “I mean, let’s call it what it is,” he says, “You buy a $10 glass, you get two glasses of beer, but it’s ‘free.’”
The inability to sell packaged beer directly to consumers hurts existing and potential breweries and the Georgia craft beer industry in general, say local brewmasters. Georgia should have more than twice the number of craft breweries it has today, says Creature Comforts CEO Chris Herron, but the restrictive laws place a barrier to entry for Georgia brewers. Prospective brewers, unable to start small and sell directly to customers, must seek million-dollar-plus investments to build a production facility sufficient to supply the sort of volume needed by distributors.
“We’re 47th in the country when it comes to breweries per capita,” says Herron. “We’re way behind the curve on this.”
Senate Bill 63—the Georgia Beer Jobs Act—was introduced last Wednesday. The bill, co-sponsored by several Republicans, including Athens Sen. Frank Ginn, includes the following provisions:
• Brewpubs like Copper Creek would be able to sell customers up to 5,000 barrels of malt beverages yearly to take home. Each person could buy up 144 ounces a day—a little more than a gallon-size growler.
• Breweries could sell up to 72 ounces (four-and-a-half pints) per person per day for on-premises consumption, and up to 144 ounces (a 12-pack) per person per day for consumption off premises. Beer must be sold at approximately the retail price.
• In a nod to alcohol distributors’ opposition, the bill otherwise reaffirms the three-tiered system of producers, wholesalers and retailers.
The bill was referred to the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities committee, where Ginn is vice chairman. It still has a long way to go: the Senate Rules Committee, then a floor vote, then over to the House, then to Gov. Nathan Deal.
I doubt the bill will move very quickly due to the power of the wholesalers’ lobby, as well as potentially lingering uneasiness with booze in general on the part of some rural conservatives—passing it may even be a two-year process—but even introducing it with a fairly strong group of sponsors is a great start for the craft beer industry.
Now let’s see if Budweiser shuts it down. Oh, wait, AB InBev has a brewery in Cartersville!
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