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Booze Delivery Bill Heads to Governor Kemp But Leaves Out Georgia Breweries

HB879 would permit beer, wine, and liquor to be delivered directly to people’s homes from restaurants, convenience stores, and grocery stores, but it appears not from the state’s breweries and distilleries

New Whole Foods set to open at the new 2nd and PCH shopping center in Long Beach. Photo by Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images
Beth McKibben is the editor and staff reporter for Eater Atlanta and has been covering food and cocktails locally and regionally for 12 years.

After passing in the state House and Senate this week, a bill allowing home delivery of beer, wine, and liquor is now in the hands of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. If signed into law by the governor, HB879 would permit beer, wine, and liquor to be delivered directly to people’s homes from restaurants, bars, convenience stores, and grocery stores. It also appears to now include package stores, but not the state’s breweries and distilleries.

The governor has 45 days to sign the bill into law.

On Tuesday, the Georgia state Senate overwhelmingly approved HB879, 42 to 9, and won final approval on Thursday in the House by a vote of 114 to 45. An earlier version of HB879 passed the House in March, but didn’t make it into the Senate for consideration. The legislative session was suspended for over two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current version of HB879 requires alcohol home deliveries to only be accepted by someone 21 years or older and with proper ID. The bill leaves the decision to allow for home delivery up to local municipalities, much like the decision to permit Sunday alcohol sales and restaurants and bars to begin serving alcohol on Sundays at 11 a.m.

However, the bill isn’t perfect and leaves the state’s breweries, brewpubs, and distilleries out in the cold, thanks, in part, to Georgia’s three-tier alcohol distribution system.

The three-tier system only permits producers, like breweries, distilleries, and wineries, to sell products to wholesale distributors. The wholesaler then sells those products to retailers, such as liquor stores, grocery stores, and restaurants.

In 2017, a new Georgia law went into effect loosening some of the direct-to-consumer sales restrictions placed on breweries and distilleries in the state. That law allows breweries to sell up to 3,000 barrels of beer each year directly to consumers, with distilleries permitted to sell up to 500 barrels per year. In other words, a person can walk into a brewery or distillery in Georgia and purchase one case of beer or three 750 ml bottles of spirits for off-premise consumption. Larger consumer purchases must be done at a licensed retailer.

“When a brewery, winery, or distillery sells directly to a customer (on-premise), the wholesaler isn’t paid because the wholesaler’s entire job is to take the booze to retailers for sale,” Atlanta-based beer writer Austin L. Ray tells Eater Atlanta.

On Thursday, Ray wrote of the continuing battle Georgia’s independent breweries have been fighting with the middle tier in the system — the wholesaler. A distributor controls where and how much of a brewery’s beer is sold to retailers across the state. He also questions the motives behind one of HB879’s sponsors — House Ways and Means chairman Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) — for leaving breweries and distilleries out of the booze delivery bill, pointing to contributions to Harrell’s campaigns by alcohol wholesalers.

For at least the last five years, Harrell’s campaign does include sizable contributions from Anheuser Busch Companies, MillerCoors, LLC., Georgia Wholesalers for Better Government (GA Beer Wholesalers Association,) and the Georgia Retail Spirits Council.

Eater Atlanta reached out to Harrell for comment and clarification on HB879.

In other booze news, while only temporary, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an order in April permitting the city’s restaurants to sell unopened beer and wine to-go for off-premise consumption. The order, which was extended in mid-May for another 60 days, does not include open containers or cocktails.

As Atlanta restaurants and bars continue to struggle under the weight of growing financial pressures caused by COVID-19 shutdowns and state-mandated safety restrictions, the temporary order provides another source of much-needed revenue. It’s unclear if the mayor and Atlanta city council are considering making to-go sales permanent, as the pandemic shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.