Beer Town: Growlers, again, and again, amen

Anyone who’s read this column knows I’m not the biggest fan of the proliferation of growler stations. In fact, I’ve called Georgia a growler Bizzaro World.

That’s not to say I’ve ever refused anyone who comes to a gathering, slaps a fresh-from-the-tap jug of beer on the counter and says have at it. And for the record, I’m not opposed to anyone making a living selling growlers.

It’s just that I’ve always thought of growlers as something you grab as a sample or souvenir while you’re visiting a brewery or brewpub somewhere. Right now, I think I still have an empty “vacation growler” from Pisgah Brewing Co. in Black Mountain, N.C. that was once filled with Vortex II stout. A very nice beer. But I don’t know when I might get back there for a refill.

The point is, in North Carolina, like some 40 other states, growler sales have been historically connected to local businesses that brew beer.

In Georgia, and especially metro Atlanta, growler stores are a very different thing, no more or less connected to businesses that brew beer than your local package store — except that your local package store can’t sell growlers. But that’s another story.

Recently, the Georgia legislature wrestled with two bills that would right what Georgia brewers represented by the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild think is wrong with the current law, and finally allow growlers to be sold at brewpubs and breweries in the state.

Not surprisingly, the bills were stalled by concerns from lobbyists for big international beer companies, like Belgian-based AB InBev, while some Georgia distributors were fearful that any change in the law could erode the balance of the three-tier system that separates producers, distributors, and retailers.

In the end, though, there was still some good news for Georgia brewers. Despite using terms like “booze bills,” newspaper and television coverage focused attention on the Bizzaro nature of the state’s growler law, especially compared to Georgia’s wineries, which are allowed to sell bottles of wine under current law. And many legislators heard from their beer-drinking constituents, who were overwhelmingly in favor of the bills.

All that adds up to more momentum for another try during the next legislative session. John Pinkerton, who heads the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild and is the owner/brewer of Savannah’s Moon River Brewing Co., is very optimistic about success the second time around.

“I am confident that the Guild’s bills are coming out of the first year with a very strong footing for success in year two,” Pinkerton said. “While we came up a bit short this year, a few things are undeniable.

“Consumer demand will only continue to increase, which ideally will translate to greater pressure on elected officials. The Guild’s circle of influence will continue to expand, and the Guild will show up next year smarter and better prepared.”

Working with Pinkerton and the Guild, other brewpub owners, including John Roberts of Max Lager’s, Crawford Moran and David Larkworthy of 5 Seasons, and Bob Sandage of the Wrecking Bar, are committed to increasing support for the bills over the coming months.

And for beer drinkers who want to join the cause, a new organization connected to Georgians For World Class Beer is set launch a grassroots effort on behalf of the bills, along with a revamped website: