The Georgia Craft Brewers Guild helped introduce a bill in the state Senate to kick off a fresh legislative session that would allow visitors to breweries or brewpubs to buy a pint or to take home a six-pack.
Nancy Palmer, executive director for the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, said the Beer Jobs Bill, which aims to drive economic growth through increasing craft beer sales, has secured five sponsors, including one in the Senate.
Local brewery owners, including Creature Comforts Brewing Co. CEO Chris Herron, have been advocating for action for months. Herron says current laws and regulations prohibit him from telling interested customers where they can find a six-pack of his product.
Four other states have similar laws in place, and Creature Comforts is joining Terrapin Beer Co. and other craft brewers across Georgia to campaign for the change during the 2015 legislative session.
Four members of the local legislative delegation — Reps. Regina Quick, R-Athens, Spencer Frye, D-Athens, Chuck Williams, R-Watkinsville, and Sen. Frank Ginn, R-Danielsville — spoke at a pre-legislative luncheon to express support for changing state laws that prevent breweries from selling their product directly to the consumer. Each criticized the current laws as antiquated, and Frye pointed out that wineries are allowed to sell directly to consumers without being required to use a distributor.
Ginn said after the event that he wasn’t aware of the Beer Jobs Bill, but he supports the existing three-tier system of regulation from the brewery to a distributor to the consumer for the sake of the consumer’s safety.
“I think there’s some middle ground” between safety and tax-related regulation and enabling businesses to adapt to modern practices, said Ginn, who serves as vice chairman of the Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.
“If you go to a brewery, I don’t care if it’s Anheuser-Busch or Terrapin or wherever, if you go to that facility and you want to purchase a six-pack as a souvenir, there ought to be a control mechanism that says the only place you could have gotten this is from the facility itself,” he said, adding that specialty bottles or labels would go a long way toward preventing the illegal sale of untaxed beer.
The bill wouldn’t necessarily alter the way breweries and brewpubs are regulated, Palmer said. Instead, it will amend the language that allows breweries to hold educational tours for the public. The Department of Revenue, which regulates how much of a “free sample” brewery patrons can be served and during what time, could change its policies to reflect proposed updates to the law, she said.
“We’re changing the law. We’re not changing any of the regulation. That’s still going to stand. The question is whether after [the bill is passed], the Department of Revenue will make changes to its regulation or not,” she said.
You may recall that the Georgia Craft Brewer’s Guild launched GaBeerJobs.com, a website with a petition to sign in support of modernizing beer laws and creating new jobs in the Georgia craft beer industry. With $14.3 billion in sales on a national level in 2013, the craft beer industry could create jobs across the state of Georgia.