On Fri., Sept. 1, Georgia will wake up to a day 82 years in the making. It’s the day Senate Bill 85 (SB 85) becomes law and allows Georgia’s 14 active distilleries to sell their spirits directly to the consumer from their tasting rooms.
The state’s distilleries have been denied direct sales of any kind to consumers. The previous law limited them to offering only three, half-ounce samples of their spirits per person. To purchase a bottle of spirits from the tasting room, visitors first had to pay for and attend a tour of the distillery. Providing distillery guests with cocktails was forbidden by law without an event permit. The antiquated alcohol laws had remained unchanged since the state repealed Prohibition in 1935 and made it difficult for Georgia’s distilleries to turn a profit, let alone stay in business.
Under the new law which takes effect at midnight on Friday, visitors to any Georgia distillery can purchase up to three 750 ml bottles, simple cocktails (if offered) and unlimited full-ounce samples without the need to purchase a tour first. The enactment of SB 85 on Friday could be transformative for Georgia’s spirits makers.
The AJC Bar Scene spoke with three Atlanta distilleries regarding what the new law will mean for the future of their businesses and what guests can expect going forward.
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Michael Anderson, Independent Distilling Company (corn whiskey, bourbon, white rum)
“The cocktail aspect [of SB 85] allows us to showcase what our spirits can do. With our white rum, for example, I can give you a half-ounce sample neat to try and tell you how great it is in a classic daiquiri or I can serve you the actual cocktail and make you a believer.”
“From a business standpoint, the new law provides us with a revenue opportunity that will allow us to grow our production, add staff and grow our reach in the marketplace. As with any business, cash flow is our lifeblood, and when you are putting spirits in barrels to age, that is even more critical to our operations.”
Independent Distilling will offer bottles for sale in their tasting room as well as samples of their spirits and a few select cocktails beginning Sept. 1.
731 E. College Ave. Decatur. 678-576-3804, independentdistilling.com. Tasting room and tour hours: Thursday - Friday 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., Saturday 3 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Craig Moore, Old 4th Distillery (vodka, gin, ginger-lemon liqueur)
“W e will have the ability to offer a wider variety of tour packages and will most likely offer a rotating menu of cocktails on tap. It is difficult to know how consumers will change their purchasing habits [with SB 85] but we are hopeful we can encourage more tour attendees to grab a bottle or two on their way out.”
According to estimates from the American Distilling Institute, Moore says the average Georgia distillery will need to sell approximately 30 percent of their products from direct sales to see a profit.
“We are hopeful with the laws changing in our favor coupled with the pending release of our bourbon we can set ourselves on a path toward profitability and long-term sustainability. The new location [Decatur Street] looks to play a pivotal role in those plans.
The distillery has procured property at 536 Decatur Street and plans to expand its bottling operations and provide the public with a gathering spot and event space.
“Be on the lookout for new tour and cocktail offerings at our Edgewood location. Tour and cocktail hours should change in the coming months.”
487 Edgewood Ave. SE, Atlanta. 844-653-3687, o4d.com. Bottles can be purchased Monday - Saturday, 9 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tasting room and tours: Thursday - Friday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Jim Chasteen, ASW Distillery (white whiskey, bourbon, rye, apple brandy, single malt)
“The educational component for distilleries (even with the new law) will still be a huge part of the experience. The tours are incredibly important to understanding a distillery’s spirits and how they are made. We’re going to be able to engage with consumers longer and in greater depth and offer them a real experience beyond the tour now.”
Chasteen is the incoming president of the Georgia Distillers Association and says he is proud of what distillers have accomplished under the state’s former liquor laws which were some of the toughest in the nation.
“This law is absolutely transformative for distilleries. It opens up so many possibilities and that includes the ability to actually make a profit.”
Like Anderson and Moore, Chasteen says ASW will continue to evaluate how the law will affect the guest experience and adjust its tours and hours accordingly. He says ASW will be ready on Friday to sell bottles from their tasting room and samples of their spirits.
“Come have a cocktail with us on Friday to celebrate.”
On Sat., Sept. 2, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., ASW Distillery will be unveiling their new Fall cocktail program to include classics like the Old Fashioned and Sazerac using Atlanta's 18.21 Bitters. In addition, 25 percent of the proceeds from Saturday's tours, cocktail and bottle sales and the Terminus City BBQ pop-up will be donated to the American Red Cross for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.
199 Armour Dr. NE, Ste C, Atlanta. 404-590-2279, aswdistillery.com. Tasting room and tours: Thursday - Friday, 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, tasting room, tours, Kevin Gillespie's Terminus City BBQ pop-up, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.