Omnivore - Brewpubs out, distilleries in with beer bill House amendments

If SB 63 passes Tuesday’s Regulated Industries Committee vote, it’s off to a House floor vote


Update: SB 63 passed through Regulated Industries on Tuesday afternoon with no changes. On Thursday, the Rules Committee assigned the bill to a Friday House floor vote, time to be determined.

The latest version of the bill, including amendments is available here. Atlanta Reddit users are analyzing the new language here.

On the heels of an impassioned blog post from Creature Comforts Brewing Co. published Monday morning and a last-minute call to action from the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, Senate Bill 63 began its journey through the Georgia House of Representatives with a Regulated Industries committee hearing Monday afternoon. This is the first of three steps in the House process following the bill’s passing in the Senate March 13. If it passes today’s 2 p.m. Regulated Industries Committee vote, it’s off to the Rules Committee and then potentially a House floor vote.

“We are frustrated, saddened, disgusted, and annoyed by what we have seen and witnessed over the last couple of months,” read a Monday morning Creature Comforts blog post that went live just a few hours before the hearing. “We are hopeful at the same time, because there are people fighting to do what is right in the face of extremely powerful political pressures, and we are grateful for them ... We ask for your support in asking the House to #FixTheBeerJobsBill. We will not achieve this without the unwavering support of the people and press who support us.”

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The current version of SB 63 is a shell of its former self. What began as the Beer Jobs Bill, an effort from Georgia breweries and brewpubs finally be able to sell some of their product directly to consumers, has been stripped substantially to the point where it doesn’t allow sales at all.

Following testimony in favor of the bill from former NASCAR champ Bill Elliott, an endorsement from the Georgia Restaurant Association, and some wildly misleading comments from Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association mouthpiece Martin Smith about how Georgia’s beer sales might one day resemble Mexico’s, a few amendments were made to the bill:

  • As with the version that passed through the Senate, breweries may charge for a tour in which they provide up to 36 ounces of beer for on-premise consumption only. (Four more ounces than what is allowed today.) But the amount of proposed “souvenir” beer breweries would be able to give tour-goers to take home has been raised from 64 to 72 ounces. Language in the previous Senate version regarding the container in which this souvenir beer could be served vaguely indicated that only one type of container could be used to hold the 64 ounces. According to this amendment, however, the newly proposed 72 ounces of souvenir beer can now come in the form of a growler, cans, or bottles.

In other words, if this version of the bill passes, consumers will be able to take home up to a six pack’s worth of beer in a variety — growlers or cans or bomber bottles — of containers. Even so, the bill language carefully stipulates that none of this take-home, souvenir beer counts as a retail purchase. Consumers would be paying for a tour that includes the take-home beer, not the actual beer, thus upholding Georgia’s existing three-tier distribution system.

  • Distilleries were added as well, with similar language in regards to charging for tours. They can provide up to three 1/2-ounce samples for consumers on-premises, and one “souvenir” to-go item that may not exceed 750ML. This came from out of nowhere, but some speculate it had something to do with Elliott’s connection to Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery.

    * While brewpubs — establishments that sell the beer they make on-site along with food — are still set to gain the ability to produce beer in bottles and cans (a right that previously only breweries had), according to the House version of the bill, they cannot sell any beer for off-premise consumption, not even through the bastardized growler option that passed in the Senate. The lone bright spot currently for brewpubs is that if the House passes SB 63 as is, they’ll be able to produce bottled and can beer for on-premise consumption, or in stores and bars through the usual distribution system.

“The hearing was as expected and as needed,” State Representative Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) tells Creative Loafing. “The issue is well known to all on the committee as we have monitored its progress through the Senate. I do expect the bill will pass favorably out of committee and on the House floor.”

On the AtlantaBeer.com listserv Beer Talk, Max Lager’s brewmaster John “JR” Roberts remained optimistic, stressing the need for continued grassroots consumer support.

“It’s a bit better, not ideal for sure,” Roberts wrote of the newly revised bill. “I wouldn’t say it is worse than current regulation, actual somewhat better, but not for everyone. Keep up the pressure by calling the whole Regulated Industries Committee. Tell them you want the original SB 63 as presented by Hunter Hill. Stay positive. Everyone needs to call/email now.”

A GCBG email sent out Tuesday morning doubled down on the need for calls, noting, “We need you to tell them that, with these changes, it means brewpubs would be the ONLY Georgia based producer of alcohol with no option to take home some beer... Ask them why they are allowing a 750ml bottle to go from a distillery but are opposed to a 64 oz. growler from a brewpub? This is crazy.”

Read all of Creative Loafing’s Beer Jobs Bill coverage.