Allow Direct Sales, Southern Brewers Say

Craft Brewers across the Southeast and Texas are hoping to change liquor distribution laws that currently prevent small breweries from selling beer from their breweries directly to consumers for off-premise consumption.

Currently, Texas brewers, led by St. Arnold Brewing Co. founder Brock Wagner, are mounting a legislative challenge against their state’s laws.

As the law is currently written, any guest who visits a brewery in Texas is forbidden from purchasing to-go containers and must instead find the beer at a retail location. Similar laws in states like Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi also prevent direct sales to consumers and craft brewers claim they are losing money, and they want a change.

The brewers call the laws outdated and say that they are losing money because of the restrictions, which predate the increased national interest in beer that is sourced locally.

“We leave a ton of money on the table,” said John Pinkerton, owner of Moon River Brewing Company in Savannah, GA.

Pinkerton, also the president of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, said the guild plans to actively advocate for reform in 2013.

In Birmingham, Ala., the Brewmaster at Avondale Brewing, Craig Shaw, said that both his company and Jefferson County are feeling the effects of direct sales restrictions.

“Every day people visit and ask for growlers, so we are definitely seeing lost revenue” he said. “The county and city of Birmingham are in desperate need of revenue and approving direct sales would allow us to help the community.”

That was the case in South Carolina, where craft brewers were able to change the law in June of 2010.

“It was a lot about educating anyone who was involved on what change meant,” said Jaime Tenny, co-owner of North Charleston-based Coast Brewing and President of the South Carolina Brewers Association.

One notable state that allows direct sales is California, home to the largest number of craft breweries in the country.

Craft brewers in Texas are hoping that an economic study commissioned by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild — one suggesting that nearly $5.6 billion in revenue could be generated by developing the brewing industry in Texas by 2020 — will help bolster their cries for change.