A watered-down version of what its lead sponsor, state Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Smyrna, and the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild dubbed the “Beer Jobs Bill” passed during the final hours of this year’s legislative session. Whether Gov. Nathan Deal signs or simply ignores Senate Bill 63, it will become Georgia law.
Most observers doubt Deal will veto it. But whatever happens, Georgia will remain one of four states that doesn’t permit direct sales by brewers to beer drinkers.
In its original form, SB 63 would have allowed consumers to buy a few pints to drink “on premises” at breweries or buy packaged beer to-go from breweries and brewpubs.
Among its provisions, the bill as passed will allow breweries to charge for tours, which can include up to 72 ounces (a six-pack) of free beer to take home as a “souvenir.” And though brewpubs will have the option to package a limited amount of beer in bottles or cans for distribution, they still won’t be permitted to sell the beer they brew directly to their customers.
To celebrate this pint half-full victory, the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild is hosting Hill at Five Seasons Westside on Thursday.
The party at the brewpub will feature a special collaboration IPA brewed in Hill’s honor. And the senator will kick off the festivities by tapping a cask at 5:55 p.m.
“Even though we didn’t get what we wanted or needed in SB 63, it was a huge step forward for the growing craft brewing industry here in Georgia,” said Five Seasons brewmaster Crawford Moran.
Moran, who is an Atlanta native and an elder statesman of the craft beer scene, has been an outspoken advocate of changing Georgia’s beer laws.
He founded Dogwood Brewing in 1995, but was forced to close the company in 2004, mainly, he contends, because of the way wholesalers wield power over brewers in the state.
Nowadays, Moran co-owns and operates three metro Atlanta brewpubs, Five Seasons Westside, Five Seasons North in Alpharetta, and Slice & Pint in Emory Village.
“We face challenges that all small businesses face, of course,” Moran says. “But the laws of Georgia make it very difficult to run a small brewery.”
Though Moran is particularly distressed by the way brewpubs were treated in the final version of SB 63, he sees progress for Georgia brewers, in general, particularly in the perception of craft beer.
“As a member of the beer community, as a beer lover, and as somebody who has fought to try to change this stuff since the late ’90s, it’s a move forward,” Moran declares. “It’s a small victory, but it’s also a big one, because it’s the first time Georgia brewers were able to get anything done.
“Talking to state senators and representatives, now, they understand what I do for a living. Back in 1998, they had no idea. They thought you were weird. Now they know who you are, and may even have been to your pub and had your beer. That’s a real sea change.”
Georgia Craft Brewers Collaboration Beer: The Hunter Hill IPA. Free. 5:30 p.m. April 23. Five Seasons Brewing Westside, 1000 Marietta Street N.W., Atlanta. 404-875-3232.
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