A big change is coming to Georgia’s craft beer brewing industry now that Gov. Nathan Deal has signed a bill that allows breweries and distilleries to sell directly to consumers.
Deal signed Senate Bill 85 Monday. Its provisions will take effect Sept. 1.
“We’re excited for it. Everybody across the state is excited for it,” said Evan Scanlan of Abide Brewing, Coweta County’s only brewery.
Under SB 85, breweries can sell up to a case of beer at a time directly to a customer who visits the brewery. Breweries are limited to 3,000 barrels of direct sales. That totals 93,000 gallons, and isn’t a limit the guys at Abide have to worry about hitting anytime soon.
Distilleries can sell just over two liters to a customer at a time, and up to 500 barrels per year.
Sept. 1 will mark the first time beer manufacturers will be able to sell directly to consumers since the end of prohibition. Georgia’s “three tier” system of producers, wholesalers and retailers has, until recently, been very strict.
Two years ago, SB 65 was passed and allowed breweries to sell tours that included up to a six-pack equivalent of beer, which could be drunk on premises or taken to go in bottles, cans, or “growlers.”
The new bill is the result of cooperation between the state’s craft brewers and wholesalers.
SB 65 helped small breweries grow and generate more revenue. The new bill was the result of people in the industry finding more ways to continue that growth, said Martin Smith, executive director of the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association and a Newnan resident.
The wholesalers don’t consider brewers selling directly to consumers to be competition.
“A patron can go into a producer, consume product, spend money and leave with product, which helps grow the brand,” Smith said.
“We see that as a sales leader. You’re not going to go back each time to that brewery and buy that case of beer. You’re going to go to a grocery store,” he said. The new bill helps the producers, the wholesalers and the retailers.
“It’s exciting – we’ve got a lot of support,” Smith said.
Key leaders in the state House and Senate were involved in crafting the bill. Having the speaker of the House, lieutenant governor and the chairmen of the committees in the House and Senate interested in the bill’s outcome helped keep it on track.
Beer is big business in Georgia, the fifth-largest producer of beer in the country, Smith said.
There’s an Anheuser-Busch brewery in Cartersville, Miller-Coors in Albany, and craft brewers all over the state. Atlanta’s SweetWater Brewing Company was ranked the 15th largest craft brewer in the country in 2016, and the 24th largest beer producer by The Brewers Association.
In addition to allowing direct sales, SB 85 also gives the Georgia Department of Revenue “some teeth to be able to regulate the sale of alcohol at these facilities,” Smith said. Breweries can be cited just like a restaurant or store can if they violate the law.
Abide is in the midst of an expansion that will allow it to greatly increase production. The current production line makes three barrels at a time. The new line will produce a 10-barrel batch. The new line is just a few weeks away from opening, Scanlan said.
And the company is working on being able to package its beer in cans. Canned beer is “kind of the hot thing right now,” Scanlan said. Canning is more economical over the long run than bottling, though the startup costs can be higher.
However, there are mobile canning companies that can bring a trailer and hook up directly to a tank and can small batches.
“We will be getting a can sometime this summer,” Scanlan said.
The change in the law “definitely allows us to increase our volume,” he said. Hopefully to the point that one – or even all three – of the brewery’s founders will be able to work at the brewery full time. Right now, Scanlan, Matthew Kapusta and Philip Leonard all have other full-time jobs.
“This new revenue stream would definitely allow us to consider looking into having somebody there full time,” Scanlan said. “This law will be a huge deciding factor in how our business will be a year from now.”