Let’s rewind: Earlier this year, Georgia brewers won a small, loophole-type victory (the best kind, right?) when a law was passed allowing them to sell beer directly to customers who take brewery tours. The beer came as a “free souvenir” that beer attendees could take home, so as the brewers figured it, the price of the beer should be naturally worked into the price of the tour. We know it sounds a little unnecessarily complicated, but it’s actually a huge step forward for brewers who are interested in exploring sales directly to the end-drinker on their own premise — which means it’s also a very controversial move for wholesalers who control the distribution of alcohol in America.
So, on Sept. 25, the Department of Revenue put a quick stop to this experiment. It issued a bulletin saying the tour prices couldn’t be based on the value of the beer, that tours only included a very limited amount of free beer at the end. Georgia is one of the few states left where it’s still illegal for drinkers to buy beer at the brewery for on-site consumption or to take home. Rumors began to swirl that Georgia distributors were behind pushing the DOR (distributor associations have powerful lobbies at all levels of the U.S. government). Soon after, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said it had email and agency records proving that officials with the DOR met with representatives of the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association and “gave the state’s major wholesalers group advance notice that it was working on a controversial regulation.” Craft brewers, rightfully so, lost their shit. Some had invested big dollars into new tasting rooms and tours.
This kettle’s still brewing down south as, last week, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston came out in favor of the craft brewers. According to the local NPR station (90.1FM WABE):
In a statement he said, the new law, SB 63, “was meant to allow craft breweries — a growing industry of small businesses — to expand their operations and grow jobs across this state.”
“I trust that the Department of Revenue will want to abide by the legislative intent expressed in that bill and that they will take another look at their rules so that further legislation isn’t necessary,” Ralston said.
What’s the most egregious part of this story? The part that really burns our brisket? The Department of Revenue and everyone else has had plenty of time to debate this law. According to the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild Executive Director Nancy Palmer:
SB 63 was vetted and debated by the Georgia General Assembly over a three-month period early this year, and was ultimately passed with overwhelming support through both the House and Senate. While SB 63 waited for the Governor’s signature, the Georgia Department of Revenue issued exhaustive Rules and Regulations on June 26 after one month of open debate and comment from members of the industry. Both the law and the regulations associated with it went into effect on July 1, 2015, to much fanfare from brewers and citizens alike.