Senate Study Committee Looks to Examine Alcohol Laws in Georgia

Craft brewers in Georgia are hoping a Senate resolution (S.R. 1099) introduced Wednesday by Republican Senator Jack Murphy will inspire lawmakers to loosen restrictions on brewery operations.

The Study Committee seeks to examine “issues surrounding the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages as they relate to licensing and tied house laws.”

The resolution has yet to be assigned in the rules committee, however, which means it can’t yet be heard on the floor of the senate to be advanced.

Nonetheless, the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild (GCBG) — which has been spearheading efforts to amend alcohol laws that some in-state brewers say stunt growth — applauded the initiative.

“We are very happy that the senator has chosen to review these things and we look forward to the hearings and the discussions to follow,” said Nancy Palmer, vice president of development with the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild (GCBG).

It’s not exactly clear how the proposed Study Committee will impact craft brewers, but sources familiar with the situation said self-distribution rights and brewery retail sales will likely be up for discussion. Meanwhile, a similar resolution also making its way through the Georgia House aims to create a joint study committee on the Georgia alcoholic beverage code.

Many Georgia craft brewers would welcome the ability sell limited quantities of beer at their breweries, for off-premise consumption.

Carly Wiggins, marketing director for Savannah’s Southbound Brewery said being able to sell a small amount of product direct to consumers would have a “massive impact financially” on her brewery, from putting a few extra bucks into brewers’ pockets to financing expensive expansions with new canning lines or fermentation tanks.

Part of the argument against it, said Wiggins, is that allowing brewers limited retail rights would “unravel” the three-tier system. But Wiggins insists that she has has no interest in self-distribution.

“I get very frustrated with this entire thing,” she said. “I just don’t see what the big deal is.”

It’s not the first time the state’s alcohol regulations have been under review. The GCBG’s first effort at easing the state’s regulatory grip came in the shape of twin bills HB 314 and SB 172, which would allow craft brewers the ability to sell one case of beer, per customer, per day.

The bills inspired the creation of another Sen. Murphy-helmed study committee, which ultimately ruled, to the dissatisfaction of brewers, that they must continue operating within the current framework for the law.

At the time, Sen. Murphy said the status quo has been sufficiently working to “regulate an industry that needs regulating.”

Sources familiar with Georgia’s beer industry have said Georgia wholesalers would oppose any changes to the current three-tier system. A call placed to the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association (GBWA) was not returned as of press time.

It’s worth noting that the GBWA contributed $400 to Senator Murphy’s campaign in 2012, which accounted for a fraction of the $2,700 in total contributions Sen. Murphy received from Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Georgia, and Eagle Rock Distributing, as recorded by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Sen. Murphy’s office declined to comment on the state of the senate resolution as it is currently written. Phone calls to the offices of Republican Senators Frank Ginn and Burt Jones, whose names appear alongside Murphy’s on the resolution, were not returned as of press time.

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