I’m finally getting back to normal life after my annual beercation to Atlanta earlier this month. Every year I delight in trying out new breweries, new beers, and seeing the exponential growth of the Atlanta craft beer scene. This year was different, the tone and vibe was harshed for one reason only: GA beer laws.
I was totally prepared to tell you all about the new spots I visited like Jekyll Brewing, but there’s a bigger issue at hand. You see, right before we left for vacation a vital GA beer law was changed, making it even more difficult for GA breweries to be successful. Let’s talk.
At most breweries in PA, if I want to have a brewery’s beer, I go to the brewery, walk up the to the bar and say “hey I would like this beer please”. I pay for my beer, whether it be a flight, 5 oz, 12 oz, or whatever size I choose, and I drink it. I can have one beer, I can have four beers. I can get a taste of a beer (at most places). If I want it to-go, I pay to have my growler filled, pick up a crowler, or buy cans/bottles. In some instances, I can’t pay them for my beer, but I can have a free sample depending on their licensing. It is so easy, that I completely take it for granted.
In GA, if I want to have a brewery’s beer, I need to go buy it at a bar, get it from a distributor, or go to a brewery and ‘pay for a tour’. Last year, most breweries were confined by theie no on-site sales law. You would pay for your tour, get a souvenir glass, and get 5-6 ‘tastes’ with your tour. That’s it. No buying a flight, no buying a pint, no taking beer with you. Hmm. Okay, this was weird, but at most places it only costs you like $5-10 and I’m getting to try the beer so I can make due.
Earlier this year, Senate Bill #63 was passed that allowed consumers to take beer to-go from a brewery as a ‘souvenir’. Many breweries were creating different creative ways to give consumers what they wanted, while operating within the guidelines. It was made very clear to these breweries by lawmakers that they could offer different tiers for different souvenirs, including up to 72 oz of beer ‘given away’ with the tour. For example, at a brewery you could pay ~$8 for the glass and tastes (what many call the ‘stay and play’), ~$15-18 for a souvenir crowler to take with you, and maybe $20+ for more ounces of souvenir beer or a rarer beer release. The best part is that there were now options! Plus, I can take my sweet preciouses home. You go GA! I couldn’t wait to get some new brews home to ya’ll after visiting.
Then, the GA department of revenue ‘reviewed’ the law and were like “yeah, about that…” and told breweries that all patrons must pay the same price for the tour. That’s right THEY REVOKED THE PRIVILEGE. Wait, what? So let’s discuss how this effects the breweries first, then the consumers.
Many breweries had invested money in crowler machines, bottling lines, and canning lines in order to better serve their patrons. These brewery upgrades are NOT cheap. Then, they proceeeded to bottle, can, crowler up their product. Awesomesauce. Oh but wait, now they are limited on their souvenir options, and now they’ve got all these bottles/cans of beer sitting around with limited ways to get rid of them.
For example, Sweetwater was scheduled to have a pretty large bourbon barrel aged beer release on 10/4/15 as a special tour. Nope. Sorry. Can’t do that. And now the canning lines collect dust. And now these release events, that help boost income for these small businesses, can’t happen. Or, if they do happen, that higher price has to be the cost of the tour for everyone that day. Imagine being a tourist, getting a brewery recommended nearby, stopping in to find out that you can’t drink for under $50 that day because $50 is the ‘special release tour cost’ and despite the fact that you get maybe live music, food, drink, and a rare to-go beer, what if you don’t want that and don’t have the budget for it? As a business you are potentially losing traffic to your tasting room.
I know what you’re thinking, we’ll why don’t they just distribute it out? They spent all this money on equipment, send it out! Oh, but you can’t self-distribute in GA. That’s. Cool. Bro. You can pay a distributor to distribute your beer for you, but that still doesn’t fix the troubles at home. I don’t even understand you anymore, Georgia.
And from a consumer’s standpoint, think about this: you love a brewery, you love their beers, but do you really want to have to spend $18 on a souvenir crowler, glass, and 6 tastes every time you go there? Think of how much glassware you would accumulate! Why on earth can I not just walk into your brewery, spend $5-7 on a beer, and leave if I want to? Nope. I have no choice but to spend the $18 whether I take the glass with me or not, whether I want all 6 pours or not, whether I really care to take a crowler home or not. Do you think I’m going to be visiting breweries as often knowing that I can’t control how much I want to spend? Yeah, as craft beer drinkers we’re willing to spend more on a higher quality product, but I really enjoy knowing that when I’m on a budget I can pop over to Zeroday Brewing, grab a Cheap Date for $3, and go home.
I’m being incredibly candid about this, I know, but honestly I don’t even know what else to say. Let me trying being more direct: GA your beer laws are bullshit. What you’re doing is making it difficult for local, small businesses to be successful. You are hindering the growth of a multi-million dollar industry within your state while the rest of the country is reforming to help them. These businesses will leave if you don’t change. You will lose money from taxes and tourism when these businesses leave the state. There are already breweries on the cusp of creating a second location elsewhere, because YOU DON’T SUPPORT THEM! Neighboring states have better laws and are trying to woo them as we speak.
There are some truly delicious beers coming out of GA right now. The quality of their beers is surpassing a lot of other states’ breweries, but the majority of us will never get to know about that if these laws don’t change.