Beer Jobs Bill now on tapA flight of beers at Twain's in Decatur. Photo provided by Jill Nolin
By Jill Nolin, contributor
With much anticipation, legislation known as the “Beer Jobs Bill” was filed this week in the Georgia Senate.
The bill, SB 63, would allow the state’s quickly multiplying craft breweries to offer their beer – in limited quantities – on and off site. Currently, the breweries can only provide a free tasting as part of an educational or promotional tour.
“We really think it would better for everyone involved if people had to pay for it,” Nancy Palmer, executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, told Decaturish. “It’s a very strange way of doing things, and ultimately it doesn’t have the interest of the brewers or the general public at heart.”
The legislation, which was assigned to the regulated industries and utilities committee, would also enable brewpubs to sell their beer for off-premises consumption – again, in limited quantities.
The lead sponsor of the proposal is Sen. Hunter Hill, a Smyrna Republican whose district includes Red Brick, Red Hare and the brewpub Five Seasons and who is seen a rising star in the legislature.
Meanwhile, the breweries have banded together and brought the issue to an eager audience, with many of them placing promotional literature about the bill inside tour glasses. Retailers, like the Brick Store Pub, have contributed money to the effort.
As of press time, more than 14,700 people had a signed a petition on the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild website supporting the changes. Buoyed by the momentum and the rising popularity of craft beer, the guild is feeling optimistic about its chances, Palmer said.
Even so, the bill is expected to find fierce opposition, particularly from those trying to keep the state’s three-tier system as it is. A previous attempt to change the law failed.
“This is not going to be easy. It is absolutely going to be a fight,” Palmer said.
But the guild and craft brewers are prepared to argue their case for upending laws they say fail to accommodate changing forces in the beer industry and stymie potential economic growth in the state.
If it passes, the bill would not freely open the taps in Georgia. Brewpubs would be able to sell up to 144 ounces (the equivalent of 12-pack) per person each day for off-site imbibing. Breweries would be allowed to offer customers up to 72 ounces of beer on site and up to 144 ounces for those on the go.
To the craft brewers, these limitations represent a compromise on their part.
“Speaking on my own behalf, I believe that agreeing to any limit on purchases is a compromise on our part,” Ethan Wurtzel, owners of Twain’s Brewpub and Billiards, wrote in an email exchange with Decaturish. “However, in order to work with our wholesale and retail partners, it is a compromise worth making; 144 ounces seems a decent amount for breweries, and leaves a lot meat on the bone for the retailers who support us by selling our beer.”
In addition to the limits, Palmer noted that the bill includes a provision that would require the breweries to charge “a price approximating retail prices generally charged for identical beverages in the county where such tasting room is located” for the beer served on site.
Palmer says this effort to encourage comparable pricing shows the breweries are not trying to undercut retailers and dismantle the three-tier system that has long kept the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcohol separate.
“I feel as though this bill is a very, very reasonable bill. Is it every our brewers ever could have wanted? The answer is ‘no.’ But we think it is definitely a small thing to change but a big deal for us with moving forward and getting Georgia on par with other southern states,” Palmer said.
Georgia is one of a handful of states that prohibits its breweries from selling beer directly to the public, and with the exception of Alabama, the surrounding states all permit to-go sales for breweries. Alabama does allow on-site sales at breweries, which is also allowed in all the states circling Georgia.
The guild contends that the changes in the bill would be enough to spark growth here in Georgia. Currently, there are 38 known craft breweries in the state. That is expected to more than double, creating 1,459 jobs, Palmer said.
Wurtzel said he would likely increase production if the bill passes, which would mean adding equipment and staff.
“We are just a small brewery, and if Twain’s needs to add jobs because of this tweak in the law, I can only imagine how many jobs would be created at the bigger breweries,” Wurtzel wrote. “Politics may not work at the speed we would like, but I believe, with the popularity of craft beer, soon every Georgian will have a brewery close-by. That means jobs and revenue for GA. Taking the next step, getting our antiquated laws in line with our modern thinking neighbors will be a leg up to the playing field and really have a positive impact on the small business people who brew in GA.”