Over a century ago, Georgia Governor Hoke Smith signed a statewide bill that prohibited all alcoholic beverages. The temperance movement gripped the country, and the age of prohibition had begun. While the state of Georgia has come a long way since the end of prohibition, many archaic alcohol laws that have roots in this era still exist. The state of Georgia operates using a three-tier alcohol system that requires brewers and distillers to sell to wholesalers/distributors first who in turn sell to the people. Alcohol reform in the south (especially in Georgia) has been particularly slow due to religious values in addition to the wealthy and politically connected Georgia wholesalers who use an exuberant amount of money and resources to lobby the state. With that being said, in recent years there has been a push to give more rights to microbreweries and distilleries in order to end this decades-long skirmish.
In 2015, Senate Bill 63 was passed, and it seemed as if it would be the bill that would turn things around. The bill enabled brewers and distillers to sell tickets for tours where the customers would receive a certain amount of alcohol at the end of the tour. Most importantly, the bill allowed brewers to sell tickets at varying prices to account for the price of the specific type of beer they would receive. The optimism shared by the brewers was quickly deflated when the bill was amended in September making it illegal for brewers to sell ticket packages at varying prices based on the price of the specific beer given to the customer. This amendment was once again the product of the Georgia wholesalers lobbying hard to keep older legislation in place. The battle between the two parties continued until a senate bill inspired hope in the beginning of this year.
Senate Bill 85 was dropped in the senate hopper on January 26th, 2017, and, after passing both the Georgia Senate and the Georgia House, is currently sitting on Governor Nathan Deal’s desk. Sen. Rick Jeffares (R), the sponsor of the bill and Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities chairman, believes SB 85 will be instrumental in ending years of conflict between brewers and Georgia beer wholesalers. The purpose of the bill, which will go into effect on September 1st of this year if signed by Deal, will be to enable Georgia brewers and distillers to sell a limited amount of alcohol directly to customers instead of being required to sell to wholesalers who in turn distribute to the customers. For brewers, that limited amount is defined as 3,000 barrels a year (A barrel is defined as 31 gallons in this section) of malt beverage for consumption on or off the premises of the brewery. However, the bill sets a limit on the amount of malt beverage that an individual can take off the premises to 288 ounces per day.
While the media has mainly reported on the brewery section of this bill, the bill also gives additional selling rights to Georgia distillers, including fruit-growers who intend to ferment their fruits. It is important to point out that the three-tier system still exists for both brewers and distillers to the extent that the brewery/distillery can only sell the limited amount that the bill grants. As stated before, for brewers, that limit is 3,000 barrels (a total of 93,000 gallons). However, distilleries are only allowed to sell 500 barrels per year (a barrel is defined in this section as 53 gallons). Customers can enjoy this distilled alcohol on and off the premises of the distillery, given that the alcohol taken off the premises does not exceed 2,250 milliliters per customer per day. Despite the limitations for both brewers and distillers, this bill is a step in the right direction towards more lenient brewing and distilling laws. In fact, many breweries/distilleries are overjoyed by this legislation and have plans to expand their operations. Specifically, Wild Heaven Brewery in Atlanta is making an investment of over $5 million on a second brewery along Atlanta’s beltline trail. This new brewery will without a doubt be a major catalyst to boost the economy of both Atlanta and the state of Georgia.
While there is still more that the state of Georgia can do in regards to more lenient brewing/distilling laws, Senate Bill 85 is a great step forward and certainly a victory for the craft brewing community and the Georgia economy. If the bill is signed, the state of Georgia is sure to see a rise in the number of microbreweries, brewpubs, and distilleries as well as the expansion or pre-existing establishments. Hopefully, the bill will place an emphasis on the importance of small business by fostering a unique entrepreneurial spirit, which seems to be leaving our country.
This piece appears under the same name in the 2017 Summer Edition of The Arch Conservative in print as the magazine’s cover story.
– Ian LaCroix is a freshman studying political science. He is a regular contributor to The Arch Conservative.