Beer Town: Nancy Palmer of Georgia Craft Brewers Guild makes history

Nancy Palmer, the executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, recently made history as the first woman to receive the Brewers Association’s F.X. Matt Defense of the Industry Award.

Presented to Palmer earlier this month at the annual Craft Brewers Conference, which was in Nashville this year, the award is named for the late F.X. Matt, the former president of the F.X. Matt Brewing Co., who is celebrated as “a tireless and outspoken champion for the small brewing industry.”

Over the past few years, Palmer and her board of directors have managed to radically change the beer laws in Georgia, culminating in SB 85. The legislation, which went into effect Sept. 1, 2017, finally allowed breweries in the state to sell their beer directly to consumers in taprooms, plus it did away with mandatory tours, and made it legal to sell beer to-go and food on-site.

As expected, the changes resulted in opening the way for many new breweries around the state, with more in planning, and that’s starting to have a positive impact on jobs and the economy.

After the industry awards presentation in Nashville, I caught up with Palmer back in Atlanta, where we had a beer at Hop City in Krog Street Market and discussed the current craft beer scene.

Quick-witted and passionate, Palmer is a University of Georgia grad with a degree in philosophy. But before taking the job with the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, she worked in the food and wine business, and was the only female member of the upstart Athens culinary group, the Four Coursemen.

Q: Being the first woman to receive the F.X. Matt Award is a pretty big deal, and it’s also really cool, isn’t it?

A: It is a big deal, and I have to agree that it’s really cool. The Defense of the Industry Award was created 18 years ago. Sometimes it goes to a guild leader. Sometimes it’s a brewery. But it’s for people who have done work to improve the legal and legislative environment for breweries. I am the first woman to win the award, and that’s exciting.

Q: It was primarily for the work you did in Georgia, and that was a long fight, but you won, so that was a huge part of the recognition, right?

A: Much of it was for the legislative wins in Georgia, and the work that’s been done, although they also mentioned that it was some of the work that I’d done with other guild executive directors from other states. That was a really sweet thing to hear — that as a leader among the guild leaders, I’d made a difference.

Q: The struggle at the Capitol took many twists and turns over the years, but you persisted.

A: It’s not an easy process to navigate. That first year, we got SB 63, which was meant to be a direct sales bill but didn’t quite make it out that way. Hunter Hill was our sponsor, and really fought for what we got that year, which was very helpful, and an excellent first step towards where we ended up two years later with SB 85 and taproom sales.

Q: We’re in a election year, with a lot going on in the state. With that as a backdrop, what do you see as your role going forward?

A: As a guild, we’re very lucky that so many of the candidates for multiple offices are familiar with our ideas now. This is our first election cycle where we’ve been such a presence at the Capitol, so I think it is going to be interesting for us going forward, because we are having a working relationship with everyone in the field. It’s an interesting and unusual feeling. Previously we didn’t always have access or feel like we were being heard.

Q: What’s the impact of so many more breweries opening up? Does that give you more clout?

A: There’s no doubt, in the most basic, straightforward way, that when a brewery opens up in a senator’s or representative’s district, then that senator or representative now has an opportunity to learn about the craft beer business. So the more districts we open breweries in, the broader the base of support in the Legislature gets, and the more people can understand our issues and relate to our businesses.

Q: What about the economic impact of SB 85 so far?

A: I can say that since the law went into effect on Sept. 1, 2017, we’ve opened 13 breweries and hired over 250 people and done more than $30 million in direct investment, with breweries expanding and opening second locations. That’s just in the first few months. We’ve got a long way to go. But we delivered on our promise.


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