Is Georgia the worst state in the U.S. for craft brewing?

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SweetWater Brewing will celebrate the Beer Bill this weekend. / CONTRIBUTED BY SWEETWATER BREWING CO.
The tasting room at Second Self Beer Company in Atlanta. Credit: Second Self.

The tasting room at Second Self Beer Company in Atlanta. Credit: Second Self.

After a two-way tie for last, it looks like Georgia will soon become the undisputed worst state in the U.S. for craft brewing.

The Mississippi Brewers Guild recently announced that a deal had been reached with the Mississippi Beer Distributors Association for a bill that will allow craft breweries in Mississippi to sell beer direct to the public through tap rooms.

“Upon passage of this proposed legislation in Mississippi, Georgia will remain the sole state in the country where a brewery may not sell beer to the general public,” Nancy Palmer, Executive Director Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, said, relaying the news in an email.

“As has been for decades now, the craft brewers of Georgia have one customer — their wholesaler. While consumers, economic developers, entrepreneurs, and state legislators have called for the ability to buy beer at a brewery that privilege is reserved for the 13 businesses that wholesale Georgia craft beer.”

If you haven’t kept up with the twisted history of direct sales in Georgia, here’s a short recap.

In 2015, a bill passed by the legislature and signed by the governor allowed breweries to sell tours at multiple price points and give away product as part of “souvenir” packages. Though it was a convoluted approach to simply being able to sell beer — something that’s considered an ordinary part of the brewing business in other states — it was still a big win for the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild.

Then, months after Georgia breweries invested in new equipment, hired more staff and started conducting tour packages that included the likes of crowlers and growlers, the state Department of Revenue suddenly issued a “bulletin” with a new interpretation of the regulations that essentially nullified the legislation and halted the product give-aways.

If that wasn’t sad enough, the AJC obtained records that showed the DOR met with representatives of the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association and gave them inside info on what they were planning to do, but refused to meet with the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild.

“The amount of access and power that the DOR granted the wholesalers smacks of insider politics and completely undermines the work we’ve put in creating a positive and open relationship with the alcohol and tobacco division of the DOR,” Craft Brewers Guild executive director, Nancy Palmer, told the AJC at the time.

But in April of 2016, after an outcry from small business friendly legislators and the beer-drinking public, the Department of Revenue reversed its interpretation, and everything pretty much went back to the way it was in the 2015 bill. Of course, that still meant no direct sales.

So what will happen next?

“The Georgia Craft Brewers Guild strongly supports legislation to allow Georgia’s breweries sell beer in tasting rooms among other much needed modernizations to Georgia’s brewery laws,” Palmer said. “As always, and in the spirit of cooperation, we hope the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association will have a change of heart and choose to support our legislative efforts this January.”

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