SweetWater Brewing Company
On September 1, 2017, Senate Bill 85 (SB85) became Georgia law. At long last, the Peach State’s breweries and brewpubs can sell up to 3,000 barrels of their beer directly, and up to one case of beer per day, per person, at the source. If you thought breweries in Georgia were great places to hang before -- just wait ‘til you visit now.
To many of you reading this, the notion of a brewery not being able to sell its own beer to consumers probably sounds preposterous. And you wouldn’t be wrong -- after all, Georgia is the 50th state to adopt such a law, previously forcing brewers to sell their beer exclusively to wholesaler or distributor middlemen. But keep in mind, this is a state that took two extra years after the national repeal of Prohibition to start pouring again. Heck, Sunday alcohol retail sales in Atlanta only became legal as of January 1, 2012; and we’re still trying to push through Senate Bill 17 -- affectionately called the “Brunch Bill” -- so that Georgians can legally enjoy a bloody mary before 12:30pm on a Sunday.
Call the state stubborn, Southern, old-school, conservative, or just plain-ol’ slow, but Georgians who prefer their beer poured fresh from the source (the Georgia-residing author of this article included) are simply content to call the new law “progress” and celebrate with a cold pint.
As you might imagine, Georgian breweries are pretty excited too. SweetWater Brewing Company, founded in 1997 and now one of the most established and popular breweries in the state, says the law will help them improve the customer experience they can offer. “Instead of just being open a couple hours a day and limiting guests to sample pours, we can invite people to come have a pint or a flight at the bar and stay awhile, enjoy some delicious food truck grub, and take the regular tour if they’d like,” says SweetWater spokesperson Tucker Berta Sarkisian. “We’re excited to hear what customers want going forward...and appreciate the flexibility the new laws provide.”
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Newer breweries agree: what’s good for the beer business is good for the guest. Founded only in April of 2016, Arches Brewing -- a lager-focused brewery based in the south Atlanta suburb of Hapeville -- doesn’t have the same depth of perspective as SweetWater, but is appreciative nonetheless. “We're too young of a business to know anything different,” says Arches co-founder Ryan Fogelgren, “but we certainly are excited for the change.”
Fogelgren is also looking forward to an improved experience for brewery visitors, and the ability to increase staffing to handle an anticipated uptick in interest and a larger volume of sales after upgrading from a three-barrel- to a 20-barrel system. “[SB85] will allow us the ability to interact more creatively with our customers,” he says. “We’ll also be able to give them a relaxed approach to enjoying multiple styles at Arches, on their terms. It will increase the ease of doing business and make the tasting room business more efficient and inviting.”
Woodstock-based Reformation Brewery may be on the complete opposite side of Atlanta’s Interstate 285 perimeter, but also sees SB85 as a win for customer freedom and a chance to bring jobs to the city. “It's a historic moment, and one that is long overdue,” says Reformation Marketing Manager Jessica Miller. Previously, the brewery was forced into the silly shell game of selling tours that came with “free samples” of beer. Now, their consumers are free to enjoy the beer on their own terms. “It's a great day for beer lovers, and we're glad to be able to serve our community in new ways.”
align:center width:800 credits:"[Reformation Brewery](http://reformationbrewery.com/)"
Since September 1, the brewery began offering a super-limited bourbon barrel-aged version of Jude, their Belgian-Style Tripel, available on draft and in 16oz cans. And in October, as Reformation celebrates its fourth anniversary, they’ll have a barrel-aged, brewery-only 22-ounce bottle version of their "500" quad, named in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and available only on draft elsewhere.
Brewpubs are similarly affected. Starting in October, Torched Hop Brewing Co., located in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood of Atlanta, will finally can products like their beloved Hops-De-Leon IPA for consumers to take home. Head Brewer Chris Bivins, who brewed in North Carolina for three years before opening Torched Hop, says the neighboring southern state provided a model for opening a Georgian brewpub.
“The biggest reason I'm excited about SB85 is that we can now put our brand onto a physical item a customer can hold,” Bivins says. “There is huge intrinsic value to having our brand on packaged product.”
His experience prior to opening Torched Hop also helped him understand the business reasons for passing the law. “I was able to see how relaxed alcohol laws allowed small business to grow. When scouting locations for Torched Hop, we thought about North Carolina. In the end, we settled on our home state of Georgia. We knew it was only a matter of time before politicians felt the pressure from surrounding states.”
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Now that that pressure has finally paid off, Nick Purdy, a co-founder of Paste magazine and the co-founder of Wild Heaven Beer, looks forward to new opportunities that SB85 can offer. “For us, it means we can prioritize a direct connection with our fans and those that are craft-beer-curious,” he says. “In Georgia, due to the legal constraints, this relationship was not as financially viable as it should be. Now it is, so we’ll show that with a better taproom experience, more diverse beers, and special bottle and can releases that will only be available at the brewery.”
So what’s the next fight in Georgia’s Great Beer Awakening? Our brewer friends can dream for now, but they’ve all got plenty of ideas to go around.
“I believe the next legislative change will be related to on-site food, limited self-distribution, and/or the ability for us to sell kegs directly to consumers,” says Ryan Fogelgren. “Every week, [customers] request to purchase kegs from us directly for parties, events, or celebrations. We can only sell one case per person per day -- which is great compared to the past, but limits our interaction with the local community.”
Similarly, Nick Purdy says his next big ask on behalf of Wild Heaven will be “removing the 288-ounce limit on to-go beers,” and Chris Bivins wants the same for Torched Hop. “It's crazy that I have to send my keg through a distributor (who makes 32% of the retail price) just to deliver to the restaurant next door,” he laments.
In the meantime, do you notice that fresh fruit on the nose of your just-out-of-the-barrel Georgia craft beer? That’s the smell of progress. Sniff it in deeply and sip the corresponding liquid slowly, in honor of your now-slightly-more-liberated southern friends.