Georgia’s craft brewers make their pitch to sell beer on site

Georgia craft brewers made their pitch Wednesday to be able to sell beer directly to customers, with members of a Senate committee saying they’re willing to consider it.

Dubbed the “Beer Jobs Bill” by its sponsor, state Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Smyrna, Senate Bill 63 would allow consumers to buy up to 72 ounces of beer to drink “on-premise” and up to 144 ounces to take home. In layman’s terms, these are daily limits equivalent to 4 1/2 pints on tap and a 12-pack to go, respectively.

The state’s wholesalers oppose the bill. Both sides made their pitch to members of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee during the hearing, which was the first time the bill went before the committee. No vote was taken, although one is expected as soon as next week.

Changes to the bill seem likely. Local authorities want to be sure it doesn’t tie their hands to collect taxes, although that language is not yet in the bill. Committee members indicated they wanted to make sure the bill did not create unwanted loopholes. Some members said they had no problem with the concept, but they may want to put stricter limits on how much beer someone could buy.

“I don’t have a problem making a sale, but would you entertain pushing (the limits) back down to 32 ounces?” asked state Sen. Frank Ginn, R-Danielsville. Breweries currently can give patrons small, hand-drawn “samples” of their beer up to 32 ounces — but they have to be given away for free after purchase of a souvenir glass.

“We’re interested in moving the bill,” Hill replied. “If that is what it takes, we would definitely entertain it.”

Georgia currently uses a”three-tier” system to separate the beer brewer, the wholesaler or distributor who delivers the beer, and then the retail shop, restaurant or bar that sells the beer to customers.

The system came into play as Georgia and the nation emerged from Prohibition, and it aimed to prevent monopolies by national beer manufacturers — the rules, in essence, prevented them from doing it all: making the beer, selling it and delivering it themselves to anyone who wanted.

Wholesalers essentially play the role of middlemen in the state’s regulatory system, and they say the current system works well.

Supporters say the bill would give a needed financial boost to brewers, who can reinvest the cash back into their local economy. Currently, Georgia is one of only five states — Hawaii, Mississippi, North Dakota and West Virginia are the others — that bar craft brewers from all direct sales of their beer at the place that they make it.

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