Thursday, January 26, 2017

Good laws for good breweries in Georgia?

On Monday, Craft Brewing Business had this to say about the state of breweries and the government in Georgia:
Georgia is one of two states left in America where breweries cannot sell/serve beer to customers directly — like in a taproom — ye old Mississippi is the other one. In fact, Georgia has really become a battleground for trying to revise regulations — a multi-year struggle by the government (Department of Revenue), the brewers, and the state’s powerful alcohol wholesalers.

Last year, begrudgingly, the state allowed breweries to sell beer via a dumb tour loophole scheme. The new rules allow brewers to sell tours of their facilities at different prices based on the quality and amount of beer customers receive as “free souvenirs.” That’s so obtuse and complicated.

In response, we here at CBB are offering an alternative idea to this bizarro law: Allow craft breweries to sell draft pints in taprooms and sell a certain quantity of beer directly to customers."

Simply put, Georgia is one of only two states in the United States which forbids its breweries from selling their beer to their customers in their taprooms. Mississippi is the other.

That is, until TODAY. Maybe.

The Georgia Craft Brewers Guild has just announced that they and the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association "have found common ground": the 2017 Georgia General Assembly will consider legislation to allow consumers to purchase beer directly at brewery taprooms ... as state wineries, by the way can already do (sell wine to visiting patrons).

Here's the press release:

Georgia Craft Brewers Guild and Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association Find Common Ground

by Travis Peterman
Georgia Craft Brewers Guild

For Immediate Release, January 26, 2017
Atlanta, Georgia – The 2017 General Assembly of Georgia will consider legislation to allow consumers to purchase beer directly at the brewery that makes it.

Senator Rick Jeffares (R – McDonough), chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, introduced Senate Bill 85, which will allow breweries to sell up to 3,000 barrels of the beer they manufacture to consumers visiting the brewery. If passed, consumers will be able to enjoy fresh beer by the glass, take up to one case to go, and purchase food without the tour package that is currently required. Furthermore, the bill slightly modifies the brewpub license to reinforce local control on issues of to-go sales from brewpubs.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2016 business leaders from craft breweries and their wholesale partners met to discuss common sense updates to benefit the beer industry in Georgia. “With suggestions championed by both brewers and wholesalers, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, Speaker of the House David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), House Regulated Industries Committee Chairman Howard Maxwell (R- Dallas), and Senator Jeffares have provided guidance to create this legislation. Their commitment to supporting the small businesses of Georgia shines through in SB 85,” said Nancy Palmer, Executive Director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild. According to Palmer the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association is also due credit, “The business leaders of the GBWA have been crucial in this process.”

“I applaud the industries for coming together and agreeing to an innovative solution,” commented Lt. Governor Cagle. “The shared interest of supporting our emerging small business and creating more opportunities for Georgians is clearly reflected in this legislation.”

According to the most recent data from the [U.S.] Brewers Association, Georgia ranks 48th in breweries per capita, 41st in economic impact per capita, and 17th in overall craft beer production. In 2016 Georgia added 11 new breweries and brewpubs continuing a consistent trend of growth.

This just makes economic sense. Wherever state laws have been amended to allow brewery-to-customer beer sales in brewery taprooms, the number of breweries has grown, and often dramatically (and that would be in all of the forty-eight states and Washington, D.C., where it has happened). Translated, that means a rise in local employment and a rise in local and state tax revenue. Wholesalers, some of whom have seen the changes as threats to their business, instead have seen small breweries fill their taprooms with customers and gain the capital to grow, and then look to wholesalers to assist in out-the-door sales.

It appears that Georgia legislators and large beer wholesalers may have looked at those numbers and reached the same conclusions. But don't count your laws until they're passed and signed. Stay thirsty. Stay vigilant.

The Georgia Craft Brewers Guild was founded in 2010. With its published mission to "promote, protect, and further the craft brewing industry in Georgia," the Guild has helped lead on the taproom issue.

There are currently forty-five member breweries in the Guild, with at least ten more expected to open in 2017. The state brewery total is actually higher than that. Beer Guys Radio —a podcast on 'craft' beer in Georgia and Alabama— counts sixty-six breweries and brewpubs in Georgia, of which some are obviously not dues-paying members.

On Saturday, the Guild will celebrate #GeorgiaBeerDay at breweries, brewpubs, and good-beer bars and shops across the state. It's both a fundraiser to help promote the Guild's mission and an acknowledgment of the Georgia 'craft' brewery industry, a small-business industry, growing statewide.
Visit your favorite local breweries and brewpubs on January 28, 2017, as they fundraise on behalf of the Georgia Craft Brewer's Guild! Proceeds from events, tastings, beer dinners, and more will help push Georgia beer forward. We are excited for 2017 and hope you are too!


#GeorgiaBeerDay 2017

Maybe —maybe more than maybe— Saturday will indeed be a day to celebrate. Georgia is this blog's new home; YFGF will be celebrating, too.

  • UPDATE Thursday, 2 February 2017:
    Associated Press reports that Georgia Bill #SB85 has passed the Georgia Senate by a vote of 49-2. Georgia brewers are now one step closer to being allowed to sell their own beer in their own breweries. The legislation now moves to the House, "where it has support from influential representatives."
  • UPDATE Monday, 13 March 2017:
    Ale Sharpton reports that The Georgia House voted 147-41 to adopt an amended version of Senate Bill 85. Because the House bill adds a provision for distillery taprooms, it needs to be agreed upon by the state Senate before it can head to Governor Nathan Deal for his signature. If that occurs, and the governor signs the legislation, the law would go into effect on 1 September.
  • UPDATE 15 March 2017:
    Mississippi House Bill 1322 has passed, allowing small craft breweries in Mississippi to sell alcoholic beverages on their premises as of July 2017. Precisely:
    • Manufacture beer and light wine (up to 60,000 barrels);
    • Sell at retail no more than 10 percent or 1,500 barrels of the beer or light wine production for the year;
    • Sell no more than 576 ounces of beer or light wine to one individual within a period of 24 hours;
    • Sell to wholesalers.
    • A brewery will need an additional surety bond in order to be legally compliant for these sales.
  • UPDATE Wednesday 22 March 2017:
    Per GPB News, the Georgia Senate approved SB85 on 22 March, by a vote of 52-1 (amending it to include the distillery option added by the House). From here, the bill heads to Governor Nathan Deal. If he, as expected, signs it, the law will take effect on 1 September.
  • UPDATE 12 April 2017
    At the Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, D.C., Matt McLaughlin, president of the Mississippi Brewers Guild was given the 2017 F.X. Matt Defense of the Craft Brewing Industry Award by the [U.S.] Brewers Association in recognition of his successful efforts to change Mississippi's small-brewery laws.
  • UPDATE 8 May 2017
    Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed SB85 into law today. Its provisions will take effect beginning on 1 September 2017.
  • UPDATE 1 September 2017
    As of today, breweries in the state of Georgia are allowed to sell THEIR beers in THEIR taprooms to THEIR customers. Georgia becomes the 51st (that is, the last) of all 50 states and Washington, D.C. to permit this.

  • Early in 2015, Georgia breweries won a small, if somewhat goofy victory when the state legislature passed a law allowing them to sell beer directly to customers who take brewery 'tours' The beer came as a 'free souvenir' that beer attendees could take home, so as the brewers figured it, the price of the beer should be naturally worked into the price of the tour. In September, the Department of Revenue reinterpreted the law. It issued a bulletin saying a brewery's 'tour' prices could NOT be based on the value of the beer given during a tour and that those tours could only include a limited amount of 'free' beer at the end: up to 36 ounces of free malt beverage to each tour attendee in a calendar day in free tastings, and up to 72 ounces of beer as a free souvenir. After a backlash, including statements from the legislature that that had not been its intent, the Department relented, but the ‘tours’ and the prohibitions on per-pint pours in a brewery taproom and on brewery beer sales out-the-door continued.
  • Good background on the current state of brewery affairs in Georgia: the mandated brewery 'tours,' via The Federalist (19 October 2016).

  • A barrel of a beer is not a physical container; it's a unit of measurement equal to 31 gallons (248 pints). Thus SB 85, if passed and signed into law, will permit a brewery to sell 744,000 pints of beer per year in its taproom.
  • The Guild has a list of Georgia Beer Day events at its Facebook page. As of today (Thursday), it lists only 21 participating breweries, brewpubs, and pubs. Consider it incomplete; for a more inclusive list, ask your local bar or brewery how they will be celebrating and helping on Saturday.
  • Beer Guys Radio's list of Georgia breweries here. Google map: here.

  • For more from YFGF:

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