First Draft with Crawford Moran

Catching up with the man behind the brews at 5 Seasons and Slice & Pint

In early 2014, House Bill 314 (and its Senate companion, SB 174), which aimed to allow breweries and brewpubs to sell a limited amount of their own beer on-premises to customers for off-premise consumption, was tabled for a second and final time. Down but not out, the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild has returned with a lobbyist group and the so-called Beer Jobs Bill, which — once it has a sponsor — will be dropped for consideration in the 2015 Georgia legislative session. The new bill aims to allow consumers the ability to buy a pint at a brewery and purchase to-go beer from both breweries and brewpubs. Currently, Georgia is one of only five states in the country that doesn’t allow any of these options.

Meanwhile, a long year of GCBG fundraising and lobbying just came to a close last month. It seems like a fitting moment to get Crawford Moran’s take on the state of Georgia beer. Moran is an Atlanta beer pioneer, having started one of the Peach State’s very first craft breweries in 1996 (the now-shuttered Dogwood Brewing Company), only to lose it in large part due to Georgia laws that make it extremely difficult for a brewery to break ties with its wholesaler.

Moran, however, bounced back, and now runs three brewpubs (5 Seasons West, 5 Seasons North, and Slice & Pint). He’s been an outspoken advocate of beer law reform for nearly 20 years, longer than almost anyone in the state. Creative Loafing caught up with Moran to talk about how legislative change can create jobs and why he’s stuck it out in Georgia instead of splitting for greener pastures in neighboring states.

We’re about to enter the 2015 Georgia legislative season. How optimistic are you feeling?

I definitely feel like our message is getting heard this time around. That is a first. The Brewers Guild finally has a presence. We’ve never really had that. The political folk actually know who we are and know what we do. In the past, small brewers were some mysterious beings. I used to get a lot of weird looks and a lot of questions when I would tell people what I do for a living. Now people get it. [http://clatl.com/atlanta/first-draft-with-nancy-palmer/Content?oid=12649406|Nancy Palmer, GCBG Executive Director] is doing a great job establishing dialogue with everybody.

If the Beer Jobs Bill passes, how would that affect your three brewpubs?

If we were able to sell beer direct it would be a huge benefit. We would definitely have to hire a few people. This business is hard enough as it is. We have to turn down customers every day that would love to get a growler or two to take home with them, so it would be a game changer for us. You really can’t overstate how important it would be for us and for other brewers here in Georgia.

What can someone reading this do to help support the small-business beer makers of Georgia?

We really need people to take a quick minute and sign up at GABeerJobs.com. Take a minute and email your state representative. Email the legislators on the Regulated Industries Committee. I honestly think that if the legislators hear how many people want to be able to get beer from their local brewers then we’ll have success with getting these laws changed. If they don’t hear from people, then it becomes more of an inside politics game where we get outspent and we lose the backroom political dealings. If people make their voices heard, David wins. If they don’t, Goliath is that much tougher to beat.

You’re on your fourth beer-making business at this point, when you could’ve easily fled the state for better laws elsewhere. What’s kept you here?

Georgia is the worst state to be in the brewing business. Which is odd, because Georgia thinks of itself as a business-friendly state. Now, every surrounding state to Georgia has more welcoming laws than Georgia for small brewers. It would certainly be easier to be located anywhere other than Georgia. But I was born here in Atlanta and have lived here basically all my life. It is home. My wife is from here, she works here, our family is here, and my kids would hate me if we moved. But I would like to open something out of state if Georgia doesn’t make the small changes we need. If Georgia doesn’t modernize our laws, you’ll see a lot of breweries close down. We already don’t have as many as we should. But without these proposed changes, I don’t see all of these new breweries surviving. It is just too difficult of a business if you can’t sell direct.