No more small-beer reforms of Georgia’s alcohol laws

A Creature Comforts Brewing Company employee fills a 32-oz. crowler for a customer to take home Aug. 27 in Athens. (AJC Photo / Curtis Compton)

A Creature Comforts Brewing Company employee fills a 32-oz. crowler for a customer to take home Aug. 27 in Athens. (AJC Photo / Curtis Compton)

Have you ever found one last beer in the fridge, only to have it explode in a foamy mess when you open it? That’s pretty much what happened with one of last year’s most-discussed laws, the so-called Beer Jobs Bill.

Throughout the 2015 legislative session, Georgia’s craft breweries fought an uphill battle against both the alcohol wholesalers and the lawmakers who insist they’re for free markets and small businesses, but whose actions tell us otherwise. Finally, they won a relatively small victory — permission to sell their beer to visitors touring their breweries — only to watch as the Revenue Department issued a groundless regulation that left them worse off than before.

Speaker David Ralston told the AJC in December that Revenue should “go back and revisit that (regulation), because if they don’t, we may have to.” Kudos to him for making that clear. But don’t stop there.

Legislators shouldn’t have stopped there last year, and the actions of the wholesalers and regulators demonstrate why. The law already tilts the playing field steeply in the wholesalers’ favor, and they pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaign coffers to keep it that way. They won’t stop overreaching until legislators do more than slap them on the wrists.

So here’s what a real, pro-business reform of Georgia’s dated distribution laws would look like:

No more restrictions at all on how much brewers can sell at their own facilities. We’re not barely post-Prohibition anymore. Let brewers — including Budweiser in Cartersville — sell as much beer as they can, packaged in any way, from their own manufacturing premises. That goes for brewpubs, too.

While they’re selling, let them sell food to their customers. Currently, breweries may only allow food trucks on their property — but not necessarily all food trucks, and they are reluctant to allow customers to buy food and beer in a single transaction. This is not just anti-business, it’s anti-public safety: Making it hard for people drinking alcohol to have food with it only creates problems. The only ostensible reason for such a prohibition is to make life hard for brewers.

Another problem for breweries is Revenue practically prohibits them from telling customers, including followers on social media, where their products are actually available for sale. (Such publicity is deemed a “thing of value” barred by law.) This is nonsense: We’re talking about the Revenue Department, not the Ministry of Truth.

Finally, keep the wholesalers from retaliating against them by significantly altering the contractual relationship between the two. Currently, brewers must sign what amount to lifetime agreements with the wholesalers that distribute their products to retailers. If the relationship goes sour or isn’t working out to the brewer’s liking, for all intents and purposes it can’t change distributors without going out of business first. That’s absurd.

Some readers may wonder why I and others make such a big deal about a relatively small sliver of Georgia’s economy. The answer is simple: It’s as clear a view as you’ll get on the way power and money interact in a manner wholly contrary to the stated principles of our Republican majority. It’s an ugly scene, and many of us won’t forget what we’ve seen come election time — this year, or in the future.

Reader Comments 0

20 comments
GentlemanJim
GentlemanJim

Your best column!!  But why did the department of revenue insert itself at this late stage?  Follow the money!

To be fair, this is not a party line issue.  Many of the Republican in the General Assembly are former Democrats who changed with the political fortunes.  And the people who are putting pressure on the the DOR are Republicans...just not the ones who get a lot of $$ from the distributors' lobbyists!

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Coming from the legislative beer snobs, you'll hear this: 

“I’ve been cellaring a Boll Weevil for years. Should I open it or sit on it longer?”

Open it already! 

DerekGator
DerekGator

It is sad that our state government is so narrow minded that they don't realize that laws requiring a wholesaler are exactly the kinds of laws that republicans should be opposed to and that harm the free enterprise system.


I am back in Atlanta after spending 3 years in San Diego, the hub of the craft beer industry and it is amazing that Georgia, not California has the antiquated over-regulaton when it comes to the craft beer industry.  In San Diego, the big craft brewers have opened large off site tasting rooms that are really just bars with full service sit down restaurants. 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Excellent article. Well said and to the point.

lvg
lvg

Excellent article - no surprise  that GOP run legislature are a bunch of hypocrites. At least they will have more time to concentrate on really important issues like allowing the mentally ill and terrorists  to have guns  

DerekGator
DerekGator

Why didn't the legislature go all the way and eliminate the mandatory wholesaler provision?  We are supposed to be a low regulation state but our crooked legislature has never found a law that they didn't want to try and squeeze money out of lobbyist on both sides.


It is high past time for term limits in Georgia but these crooks would never support an open government. 

TicTacs
TicTacs

Alcohol is as dangerous a drug as cocaine. Don't favor one over the other would be a free market.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Jefferson1776 "Alcohol is as dangerous a drug as cocaine."

Here's guessing you were high when you wrote that.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @Jefferson1776 I cant agree with that either. Hell I enjoy a scotch or two most evenings. 


I would agree alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana however. Or at least on par with 

DerekGator
DerekGator

@Jefferson1776 You are off subject, Alcohol is legal in Georgia. The question is why is the state of GA requiring middle men for the distribution of of a legal product?  Should we also outlaw roadside fruit and vegetable stands?  What about farm to table, should we outlaw that as well?  What is the difference? 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Maybe one day Republican voters will realize the rhetoric they vote for isn't the governing they get


Happy New Year everyone

Caius
Caius

"...many of us won’t forget what we’ve seen come election time — this year, or in the future."

One has to be prepared to vote for a Democrat which most Republicans are not.

What "ism" is it when the corporate world owns the government?

 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

"One has to be prepared to vote for a Democrat which most Republicans are not."

You're overlooking primaries.

free-man
free-man

Great summation.  Please keep these issues on the front burner.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I agree with you on this, Kyle.  Our legislators TALK free enterprise and small government, but VOTE for the things that benefit the big monied interests.  Put an end to it, one step at a time, if necessary.