Georgia laws stymie craft beer sales

By Evelyn Andrews

Many people visiting breweries come in expecting to buy beer or bottles to take home. Laws restricting brewery sales make that impossible in Georgia, a fact Erin Moschak, a manager at Creature Comforts Brewing Company, says causes confusion for customers and ultimately, lost profits for breweries.

“At least 10 people a day will just not understand. They want to walk in and buy a beer,” Moschak said. “They don’t understand that they cannot buy a beer directly and sometimes they will get extremely confused and even leave.”

Instead of selling beer, Creature Comforts and similar breweries sell a glass that the beer is distributed in along with a wristband that allows a customer six samples of free beer since they are not allowed to sell beer to consumers. Moschak said this system “essentially the same” as selling beer directly.

The laws in Georgia restricting breweries that cause these situations were enacted during the post-Prohibition era and have remained largely unaltered since then. These laws restrict breweries ability to sell alcohol directly to consumers, force them to be open to the public for a certain number of hours and do not allow them to sell beer that consumers can take home. Georgia beer brewers and state legislators are hoping to change that.

Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) introduced last week the Georgia Beer Jobs Act, Senate Bill 63. The bill would allow breweries, such as Creature Comforts or Terrapin, to sell up to 72 ounces of beer per person. Copper Creek Brewery and other brewpubs, breweries sell food in addition to beer, like it would be able to 144 ounces per person. Both breweries and brewpubs would be allowed to sell a 12-pack of beer that a customer could take off the premises of the business.

Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Athens), one of five co-sponsors of the bill, said Georgia is losing revenue and tourism because of the restrictions.

“I think we are missing some opportunities on growing our industries and, more particularly, a lot of tourism capabilities,” said Sen. Ginn, the chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

However, the amount of revenue that Georgia would gain if the laws were repealed is unclear, Sen. Ginn.

Many local brewery owners agree that the laws hurt their businesses’ growth and stifle the creation of new breweries.

Data from the Brewer’s Association shows Georgia is No. 44 in the nation for breweries per capita, a fact many hypothesize as a result of the restrictions placed on the businesses. The state is No. 29 in the nation for total breweries with a total of No. 22, according to data by the New Yorker.

Only five states in the U.S., including Georgia, do not allow breweries to sell alcohol directly to customers, according to statistics from the Brewer’s Association. The last in the Southeast to continue enforcing these laws is Georgia.

Repealing the three-tier system comprises a core part of the bill, which has to be done in order to for breweries to sell alcohol to consumers. The three-tier system divides the groups involved in selling beer into three sections that define their limitations on selling beer.

“The three-tier system keeps a strict line between the people that manufacture alcohol, distribute alcohol and retail alcohol,” Sen. Gill said.

Breweries manufacture the beer that is sold to distributors who then sell the beer to retailers which consumers buy the beer from. This system was created to stifle the creation of monopolies and protect consumers.

Distributors of alcohol comprise the majority of the support base for the current laws, contending that the laws protect concerns, according to a Flagpole Magazine article. However, Sen. Ginn said that while that was a concern during the Prohibition era when the laws were created, enough consumer protection laws now exist to eliminate that issue.

“There were not as many consumer protection laws during the Prohibition era that there are today,” Sen. Gill said. “That is one of the arguments against the three-tier system, that there is more opportunity to protect the public today.”

The three-tier system still in effect, in part, because of the effect religion has on people’s perceptions of alcohol, Sen. Ginn said.

“The way that we treat breweries in Georgia has a lot to do with our history and people’s upbringings and beliefs, such as people look at like alcohol is a sin,” he said.

Passing the bill could be a formidable task due to the power of distributors’ lobbying efforts, according to a Flagpole Magazine article, and could amount to a two-year process. However, Sen. Ginn said the bill has been assigned to a committee and will vote on the bill in the coming weeks.

The supporters of the bill hope that the bill will also define brewpubs restrictions, allow breweries to set their own hours and change tasting room restrictions.

Creature Comforts will still likely have a wristband system to limit consumers’ beer consumption to the legal amount, but the law will still help their business, Moschak said.

“We do not even know yet what we will do if the bill passes, but it definitely will help stop how confused our customers are,” Moschak said.

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