Local craft brewers are hoping a legislative bill easing some restrictions on retail beer sales will get signed into law, although the measure falls short of what they originally had wanted.
SB 63, also known as the Beer Jobs Bill, passed both chambers this session but is awaiting Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature.
Carly Wiggins, co-founder and marketing director of Southbound Brewery, a Savannah-based production facility, said the bill would go a long way toward helping the growing industry.
“If we get it passed, we’ll be able to create hundreds and hundreds of new jobs,” she said.
The bill as written would allow places such as Southbound to increase the amount they can pour on site to 36 ounces and allow customers to take 72 ounces to go, the equivalent of a six pack or two 32-ounce growlers.
If the bill is signed, Wiggins said, Southbound plans to hire several full- and part-time positions to help with its expansion.
The bill’s final guidelines came after several tweaks and rewrites during the legislative session — the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild’s original proposal, for example, allowed 72 ounces per person on site and 144 ounces (a 12-pack) to go.
Georgia is one of just four states with restrictions that don’t allow retail sales at breweries and brew pubs, according to Wiggins. That puts the Peach State at a significant disadvantage, especially compared to other states in the Southeast that are promoting their beer tourism, she said.
The bill still doesn’t allow people to come in and pay directly for beer, she said, but just adds new tour levels to match different volumes of beer.
For example, those on tour level A would get a regular tour of the brewery with a sample of their beer in a souvenir glass. For upper tour levels, they would get the tour and a to-go growler.
“It’s like ordering off a Chinese menu,” Wiggins said. “We’re still working with the Department of Revenue to clarify the language.”
While this should help smaller breweries such as those in Savannah — Service Brewing Co. and Coastal Empire Beer Co. to name a couple — it won’t help bigger establishments such as Terrapin Beer in Athens and Sweetwater Brewing in Atlanta, which have thousands of people per day coming through for tours and tastings.
The bill also affects brew pubs, establishments such as Moon River Brewing Co. on Bay Street, which sell both food and beer.
For the first time, brew pubs will be able to sell bottles and cans to its distributors, not just draft kegs, meaning customers may one day be able to get it in grocery stores.
“It doesn’t go nearly far enough, but we made a great effort to compromise with the wholesale lobby,” said John Pinkerton, co-owner and brewmaster of Moon River Brewing Co.
He said he was mostly disappointed that the wholesale and distribution lobby tried to strip the language allowing brew pubs to bottle their own beer.
“It just seems a little bit dirty to treat brew pubs that way,” he said.
“The thing that is so important to realize is we’re one of the last four states in the country that don’t allow some form of retail for breweries and brew pubs. To pretend Georgia isn’t completely backwards is just completely absurd to me.”
Regardless of whether the bill is signed, he said, Moon River plans to expand its operations, perhaps by this time next year. Pinkerton said he also wouldn’t hesitate to consider a move across the river if Georgia doesn’t get with the times.
“I’ve considered taking our tax dollars to South Carolina,” he said.
Wiggins agrees that the provisions are not the sweeping changes that would’ve put Savannah and Athens and Atlanta on par with South Carolina and Florida facilities, but said it’s better than nothing.
“It’s a small step in the right direction,” she said. “We want people to come through, see the place and get a six pack ... so when they go back to their vacation cottage on Tybee, they’ll pick up a six-pack there.”