Georgia Governor Nathan Deal just made sweeping changes to the state’s alcohol regulations official, signing Senate Bill 85 into law on Monday. The legislation allows breweries and distilleries sell directly to consumers, and it will go into effect September 1.
“Our state leaders have been committed to ensuring Georgia remains a great state in which to brew beer and that local economies benefit from the industry’s steady growth,” Martin Smith, executive director of the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association, said in a prepared statement. “We are excited to have worked alongside our brewer partners and retailers in supporting the bill and look forward to the positive impact the new law will have on the industry.”
The bill passed both houses of the state legislature and was sent to Governor Deal’s desk in March. First introduced in the Georgia Senate in January, it updates state law to allow breweries to sell 3,000 barrels of their beer per year directly to customers. Upon Senate passage, the House took up a substitute that added language to allow local distilleries to directly sell 500 barrels of spirits per year. For off-site consumption, thirsty Georgians will be able to purchase up to a case of beer and three 750 ml bottles of liquor at a time from brewers and distillers, respectively.
The new law loosens regulations that required the state’s breweries and distilleries to distribute their products through wholesalers.
“I think the final bill is great progress for Georgia beer,” Jason Santamaria, cofounder of Second Self Beer Company, tells Eater Atlanta. “It needed to happen in order for Georgia beer to remain competitive in an already competitive industry. This will change the brewing and beer culture of the whole state.”
The most noticeable change for local booze aficionados may be how breweries and distilleries offer drinks for on-site consumption. No longer will they be forced to offer paid tours of their facilities that come with limited samples of their beverages. State Rep. Ron Stephens, a Republican from Savannah, previously called this process “a shell game.”
“First and foremost, [the new law] will create a better experience for distillery guests, allowing them to sample whichever of our world-class spirits they would like.” says Chad Ralston, certified specialist of spirits for American Spirit Whiskey. “Second, like our distillery brethren, we're excited about the implications to better engage with guests who have at times been perplexed about the tour process in the current environment.”
Effects of the bill have been seen in Atlanta even before Governor Deal signed it into law. Last year, Second Self renovated and expanded its Westside tasting room “under the assumption that a bill like this would pass,” according to Santamaria. Mitch Steele, lauded brewmaster who was the brains behind the beer at California’s Stone Brewing for a decade, is planning a brewpub along the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail in Poncey-Highland. Monday Night Brewing and Wild Heaven Beer are both opening new facilities at a forthcoming development adjacent to the BeltLine’s soon-to-open Westside Trail.
“We plan to create an incredible beer and food destination in an area of Atlanta whose time has come,” Wild Heaven president Nick Purdy said when he announced the brewery’s new location. “Thanks to the leadership and vision of Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, Senator Rick Jeffares, Representative Howard Maxwell and the efforts of our wholesale partners and persistence of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, it makes sense to double down on on our home state.”
• Are Georgia’s Booze Laws About to Ease up on Brewers and Distillers? [EATL]
• Proposed Legislation Would Allow Georgia Breweries to Sell Directly to Customers [EATL]
• Proposed Bill Adds Language to Loosen Regulations on Georgia Distilleries [EATL]
• Booze Bill Heads to Governor’s Desk for Signature [EATL]