Legislation would allow Georgia brewers to sell direct to consumers

Legislation filed in the state Senate on Thursday would clear the way for direct sales of beer at Georgia’s craft breweries and brew pubs.

Senate Bill 85, sponsored by state Sen. Rick Jeffares, R-McDonough, represents a compromise between the brewers and the state's beer wholesalers who for years have fought to protect their position as middleman between beer manufacturers and retailers.

All sides declared victory.

The bill would allow a consumer to buy up to a case a day directly from a brewery to take home and to buy a beer to drink on site. Brew pubs would also be allowed to sell beer to customers to take home. Finally, the bill would end the complicated tour system lawmakers adopted in 2015, which allowed brewers to give away their beer to anyone who paid to take a brewery tour.

According to the most recent data from the Brewers Association, Georgia ranks 48th in breweries per capita, 41st in economic impact per capita, and 17th in overall craft beer production. In 2016, Georgia added 11 breweries and brew pubs, continuing a consistent trend of growth.

The bill, should it become law, would represent one of the largest chinks in the armor that is the state’s three-tier system of alcohol sales. Under a law passed after Prohibition, alcohol manufacturers may only sell their products to wholesalers who then sell to retailers who then sell to the public.

Wholesalers have fought for years to protect that system. SB 85 would protect the overall system while providing a carve-out for these small breweries.

“Craft beer isn’t just an alcohol industry fad,” said Taylor Lamm, a co-owner and master brewer at Oconee Brewing Co. in Greensboro. “A brewery has a substantial economic impact on a community. We estimate that 23,000 visitors will come to downtown Greensboro and through our doors in the first year. Our success will create local jobs. And a value can’t be put on ‘made in my town’ pride!”

Nancy Palmer, the executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, and Martin Smith, the executive director of the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association, praised lawmakers in both the House and Senate for their work in reaching a compromise.

“They understand the tremendous benefit this industry has on the local and state economy and are working with us to ensure Georgia remains a great state to brew beer,” Smith said.

Palmer said Smith and the wholesalers’ support has been “crucial in this process,” and she said lawmakers’ “commitment to supporting the small businesses of Georgia shines through in SB 85.”

A separate measure, House Bill 60, to allow direct sales at liquor distilleries was filed earlier this year.

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