Beer Jobs Bill On Tap in Georgia

Georgia State Sen. Hunter Hill

Georgia State Sen. Hunter Hill

A Georgia lawmaker has filed a bill in the state Senate that aims to repeal a number of Prohibition-era regulations that brewers have said are overly burdensome and restrictive.

As filed by State Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna), SB 63 would lift the limits currently imposed on the retail privileges of brewpubs and production breweries alike.

The Beer Jobs Bill, as its dubbed, would allow for breweries to sell up to 72 ounces of beer per person for on-premise consumption and up to 144 ounces of packaged product to go. Currently, breweries are expressly prohibited from selling direct to consumers for both on- and off-premise consumption, though they can give away free samples. Likewise, brewpubs would be granted the right to sell beer for off-premise consumption under the same quantity limitations, should the bill pass as written.

“In spite of the craft brewing industry booming nationwide, Georgia craft brewers are lagging behind the national trend,” said Hill in a press statement. “Unfortunately, Georgia’s craft brewers are at a competitive disadvantage compared to their counterparts in the Southeast and the rest of the country – and this bill addresses that.”

In all, the bill has 18 co-sponsors.

Nancy Palmer, executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, praised the legislative effort and its goal of bringing brewery retail rights more in line with those enjoyed by other small businesses in and out of Georgia.

“It’s high time that Georgia’s breweries be afforded the same rights that craft brewers across the Southeast have enjoyed for years,” she said. “Direct to consumer sales are the lifeblood of any growing business, this bill will make or break several of Georgia’s craft breweries.”

The Guild further contends that the passage of the bill would boost the beer industry’s economic impact by 50 percent, or to more than $1 billion, but not everyone is in favor of changing the status quo.

Martin Smith, a lobbyist with the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents the state’s independent beer distributors, believes such legislation would compromise the integrity of the three-tier system that ensures brewers, distributors, and retailers operate separately.

“It fractures a very functional, working program,” he said. “The Georgia Beer Wholesalers fully supports the growth of brands and marketing of brewers. That’s what our business is – we do that. If there’s an opportunity to do that without fracturing the system, that’s great.”

Smith said the organization also worries that such reform would lead to a slippery slope that ultimately resulted in brewers demanding more privileges, such as self-distribution and other franchise carve outs that would further threaten the three-tier system. He also pointed to the current growth of the industry as proof that the norm isn’t broken.

Nonetheless, brewers are eager for change.

“We’re excited about taking the next step in the process with Senator Hill at our side,” said Roger Davis, owner of Red Hare Brewery in Marietta, in the statement. “We’re focused on marketing, tourism, and creating jobs and this bill will help us do all three.”

The bill is scheduled for hearings in two committees before moving to the Senate floor for vote.