One of the great simple pleasures in life is sitting outside on a hot day drinking a cold drink. In my case the drink is often a beer and outside is often a brewery patio. Moving from Vancouver to Atlanta, I was guaranteed better weather but what about a better beer drinking experience? I was shocked to discover when I moved to the Peach State that I can’t get a local pint in a brewery. So how do you drink local in Georgia?
Georgian breweries are not allowed to sell their beer on site. This means that I can get free drink tickets with my Westside 10 Registration, or can buy a “specialty glass” to fill with anything I please. What I can’t do is order a pint at the bar. To quote Wyatt Williams in his Creative Loafing article about sampling Georgia breweries: “Owing to a bizarrely specific set of regulations set by the Georgia Department of Revenue, attending a brewery tour in Georgia is like performing a complicated mating ritual specific only to the indigenous beer drinkers and brewers of our region… Remember, the beer is the part they’re not allowed to sell.” Hence purchasing the specially glass. The strangeness doesn’t end there; local breweries can only pour for two hours a day. They also can’t “give away” more than thirty two ounces per person, although those ounces are often divided up into roughly measured samples. The entire experience is based on the free brewery tour which very few people tend to actually take part in. This results in an atmosphere which is crowded, rushed and nothing at all like the relaxed patio drinking of my fantasies. Everyone wants to get their “free samples worth” so you end up drinking in line while waiting for your next beer. I’ve been to three different two-hour “tours” at Red Brick, Monday Night and Sweetwater, which atmospheres I enjoyed in that order. I’ll be sure to write about Sweetwater in the future as that bro-ridden place deserves it’s own post.
Georgia is one of five states in the Union where you can’t buy brew at a brewery. If I want some local beer, I have to buy it from a third party distributor. The Peach State ranks 47th in breweries per capita. The only states that rank below us are Mississippi and Alabama, two states you never really want to be grouped too closely with. The Beer Jobs Bill, or Senate Bill 63 hopes to change all of this. The Beer Jobs Bill would allow breweries to sell 72 ounces per person onsite or 144 ounces in a to-go growler. The bill would also change the definition of “brewpub” to allow brewpubs to sell beer for limited offsite consumption. Finally the bill would change the ridiculous time limit currently placed on breweries, classifying them similarly to brewpubs. You can read the full text of the bill here.
After years of local activism, Senate Bill 63 was introduced this January by Georgia State Senator Hunter Hill. Beer activists in the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild say that the bill “will help drive jobs, tourism and economic growth”. The bill seems like it should be an automatic home run. Who stands against Bill 63? Our mustachioed villain is the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association.
The GBWA has a three-tired system of selling beer within the state. The three tiers are the producers, distributors, and retailers. This means that the distributors are the only ones who can buy from the breweries as well as the only ones who can sell the product to large and small scale retailers. Why is only beer affected while Monday Night Brewing can sell T-shirts to it’s hearts content? The entire system is a Prohibition style rootbeer hangover. While the majority of states have a tiered system, which control taxes and the ilk. Georgia’s system is particularity rigid. This rigidity extends beyond distributors for example, happy hours are illegal in the state. No beverage can be sold at a reduced price during a particular time of day (daily drink specials are allowed).
Big whoop, you say. No happy hour and relying on distributors isn’t that unusual. Why can’t I buy a pint at a brewery, what is the big deal with this bill away? The deal is this: right now a brewery has to sign a contract with a distributor to sell their beers offsite. Once a contract has been signed, a brewer can not decide to change distributors. These contracts are why Atlanta brewpubs can sell their own beer but are unable to sell any beer outside of their establishment (including festivals). Breweries are a different story as they are designed with the intent to sell offsite.Once a brewery signs a contract with a distributor, they rely on them nearly exclusively for sales income. If breweries could sell their own product onsite, it would give them a little more power in their relationships with distributors. On a personal selfish note, if the Beer Jobs Bill passes, I’ll be able to split a pitcher with friends on the patio even if it takes longer than two hours.
A lot has changed since this 2008 article when only five Georgia breweries were distributing offsite but the outdated contracts still exist. Need anymore proof that Georgia is living in the Prohibition past? Check out this photo tweeted by the GBWA meeting with Governor Deal. Woof.
How can I help?
Whether or not you live in Georgia, it’s important to encourage local craft brewing culture. Please sign the petition at gabeerjobs.com and keep the conversation buzzing with #SB63 on Twitter. Thank you for reading and keep drinking local!