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Belly up and pass the craft brewery bill

Imagine you’re visiting Georgia from a different state. One Saturday you and your family tour Reformation Brewery in Woodstock. You have a few pints and enjoy the beer enough that you want to take some home – but the bartender says you’ll have to go find it at a liquor store down the street even though it’s brewed in the same building where you are standing. 

Tourist confusion over Georgia’s archaic craft brewery law that prohibits direct retail sales on site is just one of the system’s many problems – but SB85, which recently passed the senate and awaits house approval, would level the playing field, encourage craft breweries to locate here, and stimulate job creation, tourism and direct spending. 

Georgia’s current policy is what’s called a “three-tiered system” made up of the beer producers, the distributors and the retailers. It’s a holdover from the prohibition-era, enacted to protect the customer and discourage abuse of power, but it’s outdated and heavy-handed government at its worst. Under this system alcohol has to go through a wholesaler and then a retailer before the public can buy it. The Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association has fought hard to keep it this way. All states but Georgia and Mississippi have made common sense revisions that protect the customer, but at the same time encourage growth within the industry.

At least one aspiring brewer failed to locate in Jasper because of this state imposed burden. Our economic developer had worked out a deal where some local restaurants would carry the locally brewed beer to help get it off the ground, but they found that under Georgia law, it couldn’t be done easily with the distribution regulations and the whole thing fell apart.

According to data from the Brewers Association, Georgia produces 365,015 barrels of beer a year, which ranks the state 48th in breweries per capita and 41st in economic impact per capita. Georgia is missing out on craft beer as an economic driver. 

Wineries have become a tourist destination in north Georgia. We’ve got two in Pickens County. They can sell their wine on site, why can’t breweries sell their beer?  

The craft beer industry has exploded in the last decade, even under Georgia’s oppressive regulations. Since 2011 the number of breweries in the state has doubled. If you look at the 40-plus breweries currently operating in Georgia all but a handful were founded after 2010. As a comparison of what the draconian laws do, Florida and North Carolina have over 150 breweries; Oregon, 228 Colorado has 284.

Should anyone think our limited breweries reduce overall consumption, not so. Mega-breweries can still sell all the beer consumers want. The only thing limited is competition from small, local brewers.

Unlike 10 years ago, you can go to your local convenience store and get Red Hare, brewed in Marietta, and beers from Orpheus Brewery out of Atlanta – but the way regulations are set up brewers only make pennies on the dollar through these retail sales. The real money comes through tasting rooms and direct sales at the brewery. 

Carly Wiggins, president of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, told one publication, “Breweries in Georgia take an average of five years to break even. Our surrounding states are 2.5 times more profitable. We employ only 1,500 people in our industry. Colorado with a similar drinking population and significantly more advanced beer laws employs ten times that. Breweries in surrounding states use the funds from their tasting rooms to expand, hire additional sales force members, create more unique beers, etc.”

Last week we featured a story about jobs created through the burgeoning movie industry in Georgia not to mention the billions created through its direct spending. This surge in movie production was a direct result of state incentives. The craft brewery bill doesn’t cost taxpayers anything but could have just as much of an economic impact. 

Lawmakers, stop perpetuating the idea that Georgia moves slower than the rest of the country. Pass SB85 and let our small craft breweries thrive.  


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