Just in time for Memorial Day, new craft beer rules take effect

New rules that allow drinkers to take beer home direct from Georgia’s craft breweries are now in effect, just in time for the long Memorial Day weekend.

The revised regulations, first proposed in April, are the culmination of a multi-year battle among the Department of Revenue, the brewers and the state’s powerful alcohol wholesalers.

The new rules allow brewers to sell tours of their facilities at different prices based on the quality and amount of beer customers receive as “free souvenirs.” While it’s far from allowing brewers to sell beer directly to consumers, the new laws puts the manufacturers back to where they thought they were after legislation passed in 2015.

Brewers celebrated the news.

“The Georgia Craft Brewers Guild is deeply appreciative of the work the Department of Revenue did in getting these regulations written and approved,” Guild executive director Nancy Palmer said. “Today breweries across the state can now use social media to talk about where their products are sold, and they can charge whatever prices they see fit for their tour and tasting packages, including tours with to-go souvenirs.”

Lawmakers in 2015 passed legislation that allowed Georgians to pay for a tour of a brewery and receive free beer afterward. It remains illegal for Georgia’s 52 breweries to sell beer directly to consumers. Breweries, like liquor distilleries, must sell their product to wholesalers, who then sell it to retailers.

That three-tiered system of alcohol sales has been in effect for generations and wholesalers say it protects manufacturers and retailers, who have a reliable delivery system, provides the public a safe, readily available product and makes taxation simpler for the state. Wholesalers have protected that system with heavy campaign contributions to and lobbying of lawmakers.

Once the new law took effect, breweries began offering different tours at different costs based on the kind and price of beer offered. Two months later, however, in September, the department issued new rules that said the tour price cannot vary based on the beer given away. The brewers were furious and said the agency had succumbed to the wishes of the wholesalers.

After months of negotiations during this year’s legislative session, the Department of Revenue announced in April new proposed rules, which took effect earlier this month. The new rules also apply to liquor manufacturers.

While Georgia brewers are pleased the new rules are in effect, they say more changes are still needed. Palmer said 48 states allow breweries to sell beer directly to consumers.

“We are excited that this weekend consumers across the state can get free samples and free souvenirs from Georgia’s brewers, but it’s time for Georgia’s legislators to allow breweries to sell those pints and six packs,” Palmer said.

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