We’ve been to Georgia many times. Things work slowly there. Just try driving around Atlanta or ordering a beer at Taco Mac. Even worse: Annoy a Southerner and you will be met with slow, detailed indifference, or at least that’s the stereotype. Solidifying that stereotype, we read with furious impatience that Georgia’s Department of Revenue has 1) not yet issued rules detailing the process that will allow craft breweries to sell a free beer souvenir with tours (among other seemingly normal privileges, all detailed below), and that Georgia lawmakers 2) didn’t form a special committee to study beer regulations over the summer.
According to this article in the Atlantic Journal-Constitution:
Now, with lawmakers adjourned for the year, beer brewers and their supporters in the General Assembly are increasingly anxious they’ve lost hard-earned momentum after legislators refused to approve a special committee to study beer regulations over the summer. The burgeoning industry instead must wait and hope the Department of Revenue [DOR], an agency they blame for bowing to the wishes of powerful alcohol wholesalers, does what all sides agreed to in January.
“We are anxiously awaiting the new regulations promised to us 10 weeks ago, addressing a bill that was passed a year ago,” said Nancy Palmer, the executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild. “There are 40 businesses in Georgia that are waiting to make plans, open tasting rooms and schedule events across the state because they hope that change is just around the corner.”
Georgia’s House and Senate leaders adjourned the general assembly on March 24, allowing members to return to their districts early and focus on re-election campaigns. Yeah for elections.
Let’s rewind a little bit: Last year, Georgia brewers won a small, loophole-type victory 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 a huge step forward for Georgia brewers who are interested in exploring sales directly to the end-drinker on their own premise. It’s also a very controversial move for wholesalers who control the distribution of alcohol in America.
So, on Sept. 25, 2015, the DOR 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 and 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.
Eventually, the wholesalers, brewers and DOR came to a “compromise,” which wasn’t a compromise at all since the law had already passed. The re-approved deal was aimed at:
- Allowing brewers again to sell brewery tours at variable prices based on the kind of beer offered.
- Allowing special events at breweries and distilleries.
- Letting brewers, distilleries and wholesalers use social media to alert the public about where to buy their products or advertise special events.
- Allowing third parties to sell tour tickets.
- Letting breweries and distilleries sell food on site.
The “compromise” also approved a study committee to recommend broader legislative changes for 2017. But the resolution to create the committee failed to move in the session’s final days. Surprise, surprise. According to that same Atlantic Journal-Constitution article:
Taylor Lamm, the master brewer at Lake Country Brewing Co. in Greensboro, said that was one last slap in the face.
“After the failed attempt to generate new legislation and a regressive compromise, HR 1345 gave Georgia craft breweries a glimmer of hope that progress could still be made in 2016,” Lamm said. “We are astounded that a sound step to this debate — a study committee — is dead without a vote by the committee that was charged with the task. At this point, the only solution seems to be to continue to raise awareness on a grass-roots level and push for real change in 2017.”
And what about details on the new laws mentioned above, which are still not out? The Department of Revenue said it might have something out this week, after a long lunch, nice nap and nine holes with some celebratory sweet tea.
“The department anticipates the release of the proposed regulations for the 30-day public comment period before the end of the month,” Revenue Department spokesman William Gaston said.
How’s about we don’t hold our breath.