This Thanksgiving, be thankful that your craft brewery is not located in Georgia. Craft breweries in the state find themselves in the middle of one of those “Umm, what?” local legislative battles that only stands to awkwardly get in the way of one of the country’s fastest-growing industries.
Earlier this year, Georgia brewers actually won a small victory by being allowed to sell beer to customers to take home from the brewery. But even this small victory came only via loophole: Brewers still weren’t allowed to sell beers for customers to take home, buuuuut they could charge customers to go on a tour and then — as a souvenir — they could take home some beer. Complicated, but a step forward, and brewers were pumped about it. They started to charge different prices for the tour, depending on which souvenir beer the customer wanted to take home.
But as these local tweaks to distribution seem to go, local distributors became upset and decided to dig their heels into the status quo. This outstanding story in Atlanta Magazine goes in-depth into how the distributor lobby was able to influence the closing of this loophole. Please go read it. It all seems super shady.
Here is one of the bummer passages that gave insight into how this will legitimately affect craft brewers and stunt their growth:
It placed brewers like Monday Night Brewing’s Joel Iverson in a bind. His company had invested $85,000 into its tasting room, which included the purchase of a five-barrel system intended to make experimental small-batch beers for his guests. Before the bulletin, MNB justified the cost given the projected increase in revenue from tours sold at three or four different price points, like the $20 “Now and Later” package that consisted of six six-ounce beer samples, a brewery tour, and either a six-pack or bomber to go. However, Iverson’s brewery has reverted to back to its standard $12 tour, sans the road beers.
“We’ll continue doing it that way until there’s more clarity,” Iverson told us. “It’s not worth even giving the impression that the amount of alcohol included is somewhat tied to the tour.”
Amid the confusion, one thing has been made clear to craft brewers: Starting on December 1, they must comply with DOR regulations or else face a citation that could result in the suspension of tasting room privileges for an entire year.
Here is what Georgia Craft Brewers Guild Executive Director Nancy Palmer had to say:
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 SB63 waited for the Governor’s signature, the Georgia Department of Revenue issued exhaustive Rules and Regulations on June 26th 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 1st, 2015 to much fanfare from brewers and citizens alike.
Throughout this process, from the bill’s introduction in January to its enactment in July, a brewer’s right to charge variable prices for brewery tours by whatever basis they saw fit was clear and unambiguous. It is egregious that the Department of Revenue has waited until now – after the conclusion of months of debate on this law — to quietly, and without open comment, issue a bulletin that flies in the face of the consensus understanding of the law and the known legislative intent. Furthermore, it contradicts the rules that the DoR itself set forth and under which breweries in Georgia have been operating for the last 3 months. The timing of this bulletin smacks of political jockeying and underscores that breweries in Georgia need clear and direct retail sales without equivocation.
Georgia’s small breweries have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars of capital, hired new employees, and overhauled their tasting rooms under direct assurances from the Department of Revenue that a tasting room offering multiple tour types, including to-go tours, was acceptable and viable. This bulletin is in antithesis to that understanding. Our small brewers, yet again, have had the rug pulled out from underneath them. It is more clear now than ever before that Georgia’s brewers need absolute direct sales and other basic rights enjoyed by breweries around the country.
While not specifically spelled out in the story, here is what I assume is the distributor lobby’s position (said while wearing a monocle):
Why, we can’t have customers buy beer from the place that makes it, like most of the rest of the country does! Could you imagine? That is a descent into madness. There is no way in which allowing people to buy more beer at breweries — and thereby growing the businesses that are making beer — could ever benefit us, the ones that sell people beer.
OK. So maybe that’s a little editorializing on my part. To be fair, breweries selling their own beer on site to their own customers is a fairly controversial topic all around America. A ton of states allow you to do this, but it shouldn’t just be places like Oregon and Colorado and Ohio that take advantage.