Are Georgia’s Booze Laws About to Ease up on Brewers and Distillers?

January 19, 2017 Chris Fuhrmeister

A compromise that would allow consumers to buy alcohol on-site may be in the works

The craft beer and liquor scenes in Georgia are booming despite state alcohol laws. For the most part, brewers and distillers are required to distribute their products through third-party wholesalers and not directly to consumers. But, changes could be on the way, according to a report from 11 Alive.

As it stands, booze artisans in the state can’t legally sell their products on site, but they can offer free samples as part of packaged tours. At local breweries, this plays out with patrons paying for a tour, enjoying a few samples that add up to 36 ounces, and then heading out the door without ever seeing the facilities. State Rep. Ron Stephens, a Republican from Savannah, calls this process “a shell game,” according to 11 Alive.

In January 2015, brewers and distillers pushed for the state legislature to pass the so-called Beer Jobs Bill, which, among other things, would have allowed them to bypass wholesalers. It would have put an end to the tour charade at breweries and let thirsty Atlantans purchase up to 72 ounces of beer for on-site consumption and take up to 144 ounces to go. Wholesalers lined up against the bill, and it was gutted before becoming law. What’s worse, the state department of revenue quickly rolled back the few advancements that were achieved, leaving state brewers frustrated and confused. In January 2016, lawmakers enacted new rules that eased some burdens, but industry advocates saw the changes as only small steps in the right direction.

Now, a giant leap may be coming. 11 Alive reports state legislators and lobbyists are nearing a compromise on the issue, and it would result in on-site sales becoming legal. Specific details have not been revealed, and local brewers are staying quiet for the moment. “All of the Georgia breweries have agreed to not comment on any of this for now,” a representative for Decatur’s Three Taverns Craft Brewery tells Eater Atlanta.

Jeffrey Moore, co-owner of Old 4th Distillery in Old Fourth Ward, believes the compromise likely wouldn’t have much of an affect on his business. Moore says he and his partners are more focused on wider distribution, and serving drinks on the premises has never been part of O4D’s plans. He does look forward to possibly offering customers a little more when they participate in tours. Right now, patrons can partake in only a single half-ounce sample.

“I will say we are very interested in increasing sample sizes to more closely reflect the amount brewers enjoy,” Moore tells Eater Atlanta.

Attempts to loosen state alcohol regulations have failed in the past, but lawmakers believe this year could be different. "I am 99.9 percent confident that [wholesalers] will not have objection to [the compromise],” Stephenson told 11 Alive. Whether brewers and distillers are as enthusiastic about the final outcome of this potential deal remains to be seen.

Political Compromise Would Allow Brewers, Distillers to Sell On-Site in Georgia [11 Alive]
Three Taverns Brewery and Brick Store Pub Folks Discuss Georgia's Beer Laws [EATL]
New Rules Ease Restrictions on Georgia Craft Breweries and Distilleries [EATL]
All Booze News EATL]

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