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However, the amount of revenue that Georgia would gain if the laws were repealed is unclear, Sen.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

Buley Looks Toward Future of Beer

Matt Buley, 926

Zack Taylor

On the first Sunday of every month Athens League of Extraordinary Zymurgists meet to sample and critique each other’s efforts at the art of home brewing¬¬ –– one of these people is Matt Buley.

He is a tall, gaunt man in his late 30’s. He sports a naturally tan complexion and a goatee with patches of gray.

Late into the meeting, Buley lifts his glass to sample the last beer of the night, a beer spiced with chocolate and mint that one of the participants brought.

Buley puts the glass to his lips, takes a sip, and recoils in shock, “It taste’s just like those f***ing cookies Girl Scouts sell to my wife.” Buley said.

Buley turns to the beer’s creator and offers up these sage words: “It’s not bad, it’s just the base beer doesn’t really come through. Beef that up and see what happens,” Buley said

His opinion matters for a reason; Buley is not just another club member, but the brewer at Copper Creek, the only brew pub in Athens-Clarke County.

Buley has been a part of the Athens craft beer and home brewing community for over 15 years, and as such, has had an avid interest in seeing the laws concerning alcohol change.

While he is disappointed that the recent repeal of Sunday alcohol sales was shot down in the state of Georgia, there is another alcohol law Buley is more concerned with –– the sale of beer growlers.

A growler is a glass jug that comes in either 64 ounces or 1 gallon sizes and some kind of pressure seal mechanism. These jugs are meant to hold beer pulled off of a keg tap.

These jugs were used traditionally as vessels for people to carry beer from breweries and pubs to their homes.

When Buley came to work at Copper Creek, the allowed alcohol content for beer in the state was capped at 6%.

“I was asked if I thought the beer percentage would be raised first or growlers would become legal first,” Buley said. “At the time I believed growler legalization seemed more promising.”

Nearly a decade later the alcohol percentage for beer is capped at 14 % in the state of Georgia, but growlers are still illegal in their traditional capacity.

Recently, however, the state of Georgia declared that the county could decide if growlers could be sold buy designated growler shops.

Currently, Athens-Clarke County is the only place in Georgia that has decided to allow this, thanks in part to Buley and Copper Creek.

Before Georgia passed the new state growler law, Buley and Copper Creek got the county to allow growler sales.

It didn’t work out the way Buley had planned.

“Since [Copper Creek] is considered a production facility, we couldn’t sell growlers under Georgia law,” Buley said.

Copper Creek still can’t sell growlers under the revised law because they would be bypassing the distributors.

“There is a push to get limited self distribution for breweries and brewpubs in Georgia,” Buley said. “Breweries would be able to sell something like a 6-pack per person to people who toured the brewery, and brewpubs would be able to sell limited growlers.”

As it stands now, Buley is wary about limited distribution coming to fruition.

“Georgia has a conservative government; you would think arguing free enterprise would be an easy sell, but it doesn’t seem to be in this case,” Buley said.

However, Buley does believe the recent allowance of growler shops could only help. “It allows the public to get familiar with a growler and hopefully will spark more demand from the public,” Buley said.

Though Buley demonstrates a strong passion for beer these days, it wasn’t always this way.

“When I grew up in Florida I hated beer,” Buley said.

That started to change in his late teens because of a grocery store near his childhood home.

“This store had stuff that was a wide step up from a keg party. It totally changed my perception,” Buley said.

This same store also came to carry something else Buley found intriguing: brewing kits.

“I was underage. I didn’t just want to walk up and buy a kit,”

Buley said. Eventually one of Buley’s friends purchased a kit and they started brewing together.

When Buley moved to Athens to come to college, he left the brewing kit with his friend, but brought with him a growing fascination with the art of home brewing.

“I started going to Athens Home Brewing Supplies, and that’s where it all started,” Buley said.

It was through that first connection that Buley became a part of the brewing community in Athens, eventually becoming the brewer of Copper Creek.

Now, Buley looks toward the future of beer in Athens, and he believes that future lies in brew clubs.

“If you do [the club] right, a strong brewing company can only grow out of it,” Buley said. “From that, festivals can be started, beer awareness can be raised –– the sky’s the limit really.”

Back at the meeting, festivities are coming to an end.

Before everyone picks up their bottles and empties their tasting glasses, Buley makes a short speech about the direction of the club and about brewing in general.

Everyone listens quietly, not speaking over him. He finishes what he has to say and everyone gets up to leave.

Only when the meeting is over does Buley pull a small bag of tobacco and rolling papers out of his pocket. He doesn’t smoke during the meetings.

“I don’t want to hurt my palate with cigarette smoke,” Buley said.

Students Who Booze Can Lose

By Zack Taylor

For some students, drinking is a fun and relaxing activity. For others it is a dangerous risky endeavor.

Every year the University of Georgia Police Force arrests hundreds of underage drinkers.

While it may be the common thought among students that police are out to catch them for drinking underage, University Police Chief Jimmy Williamson has a different insight.

“Typically anytime a student any contact with the police is when they over consume,” Williamson said.

“It’s then that students will have poor decision making or become a victim and police will get involved.”

Williamson said that when he asked is asked who complains most about student behavior the answer shocks people.

“What happens is [students] over consume, they do something silly and other students call in and complain.” Williamson said. “If we find they’re drinking and under 21 there are going to be arrests.”

There is a misconception about underage drinking that Williamson addresses.

“The law doesn’t say you have to be drunk, the law is about possession.” Williamson said. “If you have one drink in the hand and the other in your body, that’s possession under Georgia law.”

Williamson said that the simple act of an underage individual just holding a friend’s beverage can constitute possession, however police are at liberty to use discretion.

“If you explain to the officer that you are just holding it and the officer doesn’t smell any beer on you, then he’ll probably cut you some slack,” Williamson said.

A student arrested for underage possession is not only directly taken to the Athens-Clarke County police department where they are charged, but also is punished by the University for a Code of Conduct violation.

According to the University code of conduct, underage possession of alcohol is in violation of the Code of Conduct.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act gave University the authority to contact the parents of a student who has been charged with alcohol possession.

However, this measure is completely optional and is at the complete discretion of The Office of Judicial Programs.

According to the University code of conduct there are two levels of violations relating to alcohol.

A Level I offense concerns possession and or use of alcohol. A Level II violation concerns use paired with operating a vehicle, committing a violent act, disorderly conduct or damage of property.

There are punishments for both Level I and II violations. For Level I the punishment includes the mandatory attendance of an alcohol education program and 6-12 months of probation.

For Level II offenses there are additional sanctions including suspension and other measures to be determined by the University based on the individual case.

Students are arrested for underage possession every year, but it is not a priority of the University Police department, which only arrests approximately 250 students a year for underage drinking.

The amount of students they notice who are underage and intoxicated is far higher, however.

“If we wanted to arrest every underage drinker it would be so easy,” Williamson said. “It would be like shooting fish in a barrel.”

Even with the risks, students still drink and are arrested for underage possession.

“My friends and I used to go skate at the Hull Street parking deck and drink a beer,” said Zach Parker, who was arrested for under possession last year. “It’s sound dumb and it really was.”

Parker had found the area to be s safe zone and really considered it no less risky then drinking at his own residents.

The protocol for Parker and his friends was to drink a beer while riding a skateboard to the bottom of the parking deck and then ride the elevator back up to the top.

“In our minds we had done so many things before in that parking deck,” Parker said. “What could go wrong?”

On this particular day one of Parker’s friends felt something was wrong.

“He suggested we get rid of our beers before we went down and my other friend and I didn’t listen to him,” Parker said. “We should have listened to his infinite wisdom.”

On what would be there last ride down, a University police officer approached the three students and questioned them about their activities at the parking deck.

“You can’t really skate in the parking deck so that’s why she approached us,” Parker said.

The officer noticed Parker and one of his friends were holding beer cans and after an ID check they were immediately arrested for minor possession.

“My other friend was let go, even though he had been drinking,” Parker said. “He just didn’t have any beer on him at the time.”

University police are not the only law enforcement that catches underage drinkers.

“The first semester of my freshman year I got a minor possession charge downtown,” said Bryan Thompson, a student at the University.

Thompson said he was caught when his friend tried to sneak him a fake ID downtown when an officer noticed the handoff.

“He made me show him the fake and both me and my friend were arrested,” Thompson said.

Even though he was arrested by an Athens-Clarke County officer outside of University property, Thompson was still liable for a Code of Conduct violation because he was a student.

Consumption of alcohol is a part of not only University life, but life in general. While it is tempting for young students to engage in underage consumption there are risks involved.

If students decide to run the risk of drinking underage there are things that can be done to keep them safe.

Although Williamson said he could never condone drinking underage, he said the problem does not lie with drinking, but excess.

“If everyone drank in a responsible manner then I would never know how old you are because I would have no reason to ask,” Williamson said.