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Growlin' for Growlers

Excuse me, do you sell growlers?

That’s probably a question we get at least once a day at the brewery. Currently, the answer for the state of Georgia is no. Georgia still abides by a very strict three-tier system. A system put in place after the repeal of prohibition on December 5, 1933 – almost 80 years ago. It was put into place to restrict the unruliness and disarray that occurred during Prohibition. This system splits the brewing industry into three segments: producers, distributors, and retailers.  Essentially, producers can only sell to distributors. So your microbreweries like SweetWater, Terrapin, Red Hare, or Southbound will be selling to each respective distributor. Those distributors then sell to your retailers such as The Distillery, The Beer Growler, or Green Truck Pub. Then those guys sell to the thirsty masses.

This system regulates production breweries in a state-by-state fashion.  So if you’re thinking hey – I’ve bought a pint of beer before at Moon River or Twain’s – you are finding the exception to the rule. A brewpub is considered to be both a producer and a retailer. However, they are also regulated in a state-by-state fashion. The Brewer’s Association says that a brewpub is a restaurant-brewery that sells 25% or more of its beer on site. Since it is state-by-state regulated, Georgia caps brewpub production to 10,000 barrels a year. That’s 20,000 kegs.  Which is quite a bit, but half of that must be consumed on site.

What can a production brewery in Georgia do? The current state law allows breweries to have educational tours and tastings.  As a brewery you have two choices. A one-hour tour, once a day, where you can serve up to 24 oz. of beer.  Or you can have a two-hour tour, once a day, where you can serve up to 32 oz. of beer. The tour is free, however you can purchase a souviner pint glass in which your beer may be served. Otherwise, you get a plastic tasting up that you toss when you leave.  The vast majority of breweries host the two-hour tours, trying to give the patrons longer to soak up information on how the suds are brewed.   The major part of this law is “A licensed brewery shall not engage in retail package or retail consumption sales on Premises…” and that’s the part we want changed.

If you look at our neighboring states the limitations for breweries are virtually non-existent. Up until this year, South Carolina allowed its patrons to purchase up to 288 oz. of beer per day. The catch was you could only sell 4 – 4oz samples on site. Then you had to take your growler purchases to go.  A recent law now allows those breweries to have up to 48 oz. on site while still taking the 288 oz. away. The key word here being sell. They can charge for beer for both on and off site consumption.  In Florida you can buy beer by the pint or fill a growler to take home from your local brewery. Only catch here is that it has to be a container of 32 oz. or 128 oz., but you can take more than one home! Then there is North Carolina. In the Southeast, this is our little beer mecca because these guys operate under the two-tier system meaning they can self distribute.  You can go visit your favorite brewery, purchase beer by the pint, take a tour, or take beer to go in any form. Own a local bar and you’re out of beer? No problem, the brewery can load it up and bring it right down to you.  This perfect beer environment seemed appealing enough to other breweries that New Belgium (Colorado), Sierra Nevada (California), and Oskar Blues (Colorado) are opening second locations in North Carolina.  These are some of the largest breweries in the nation and that means three big things for the state: Jobs, Revenue, and Tourism.

Now that you know what’s going on in the Southeast for beer, its even more interesting to know that Georgia wineries don’t have any of these restrictions. You can scoot on down to your local winery to sample, buy by the glass onsite, or take a bottle home. Wineries can also self-distribute. Why? If a winery makes at least 40 percent of its annual production from agricultural produce grown in the state where the winery is located they can engage in both retail and wholesale sales. Samples of wine can be given free of charge or for a fee. They can also have a restaurant without being capped on production. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t work in favor of breweries even if 100% of our ingredients come from our backyard. If you take into account that the average wine alcohol content is about 13% and beer is about 5% its clearly not the alcohol content that is keeping us down.  So what is it?  Craft beer pairings are just as common as wine pairings, but maybe even more approachable.  There are just as many varieties and diverse styles of craft beer to enjoy as there are unique wines.  Craft beer has become wine’s equal in so many ways, so why isn’t that reflected in the rules? We suppose, that’s just a question for Georgia. What do you think?