Georgia lawmakers passed a stripped-down version of the so-called Beer Jobs Bill last Thursday, alleviating some sales limitations but ultimately falling short of the sweeping changes originally supported by the state’s craft brewers.
As passed, Senate Bill 63 allows for brewers to charge varying fees for tours and in return provide consumers with up to 72 oz. of beer for off-premise consumption as a “free souvenir.” Brewers can also provide touring visitors with free samples of no more than 36 oz. at the facility, up from 32 oz., in a designated tasting area. The bill also eliminates the draft-only requirement imposed on brewpubs, but does not lift the ban on establishments selling beer to go.
While the state’s lawmakers acquiesced to the call for progress, the bill now headed for Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk is a far cry from what brewers were initially pushing for. As Brewbound reported in January, the original bill filed by State Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) aimed to repeal the ban prohibiting brewpubs from selling beer to go while also giving production breweries the rights to sell beer direct to consumers for both on- and off-premise consumption, rather than give it away for free as a sample or part of a tour package.
In a Facebook post, the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild (GCBG) said the new bill was “far from ideal,” but nonetheless “a small step towards helping Georgia breweries.”
Reached by Brewbound, Nancy Palmer, executive director of the GCBG, said she was excited for the bill’s passage, but clarified it wasn’t a win across the board.
“Though it allows us to do separate things, it still does not allow us to sell to the public,” she said. “Unfortunately, we don’t believe we’re going to see all of the job growth that we could have seen had we had the direct sales.”
Rob Lee, the social media director and a production assistant at Georgia’s Omaha Brewing, called the bill a “bare bones start,” and expressed disappointment that lawmakers declined to allow for sales, instead favoring free samples.
“Compared to other states it’s a joke,” he said. “You go west of the Mississippi and you can go in a brewery and have as many pints as you want fresh out of the fermenter. It’s just disappointing as Georgia can’t get on board with it.”
The original bill called for brewers to be able to sell up to 72 oz. of beer per person for on-premise consumption and up to 144 oz. of packaged product to take home. Instead, Georgia remains one of just four U.S. states that restricts a brewery from selling direct to consumers.
Not all industry stakeholders were in favor of the bill’s original intent, however, which may hint at why it took a gentler version to pass. Martin Smith, a lobbyist with the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association, told Brewbound in February the original wording of the bill would fracture “a very functional, working program” in the three-tier system.
Though next session’s legislative agenda has yet to be determined, according to Palmer, Lee at Omaha Brewing expects the Guild to take the effort back up next legislative session and continue advocating for direct-to-consumer sales.
“The Georgia Craft Brewers Guild you could say was the catalyst in getting the first bill passed,” he said. “I definitely think they’re going to continue to push it.”