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At least one Georgia beer maker is frothing mad about the new legislation regulating local suds’ sales and is using his menu to make the point.
At the Slice & Pint brewpub in Emory Village, brewmaster Crawford Moran has launched a "government rant" series of beers designed to highlight his gripes.
The menu’s fall offering: "Why does the state legislature not want to create jobs by allowing us to do growlers of this IPA?"
Alas, growler shops - that sell the glass jugs that hold a half gallon of beer - dot the landscape from Decatur to Alpharetta. So your PolitiFact Georgia scribe ordered a pint – even Beerack, er, Barack Obama knows the value of a good beer summit – and settled in to research whether the state’s brewpubs can’t sell their products to go.
Georgia’s history of direct beer sales to consumers is a bitter one. Craft brewers have sought for at least a decade to change the state law that keeps them from making money from those who want to quaff their wares.
In this year’s legislative session, Senate Bill 63 originally would have given breweries and brewpubs their wish.
But the final version instead gave craft brewers the ability only to sell tours and give away their product – a backdoor way to sell limited amounts of beer to go - and stripped out brewpubs’ ability to do the same.
Controversy is brewing over that change, now that the state Department of Revenue has issued a bulletin forbidding brewers from charging different prices for the tours based on the value of the beers offered.
And brewpubs? The law makes it clear they must sell only on site or to wholesale dealers – the middleman that direct sales would avoid.
"We have had so many people come in, locals, students, parents and they love our beer and want to take some home with them," said Moran, who co-owns the Slice and Pint and two locations of the 5 Seasons brewpub. "But the state legislature said those people can’t buy beer where they want to. It’s hard to take."
It’s also hard to pin down. Nancy Palmer, executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, agreed the hard line in SB 63 says brewpubs cannot sell their product to go.
But hypothetically, she said, brewpubs could sell a growler of beer that they did not produce on site.
That’s because the state license for alcohol sales applies to bars, package stores and brewpubs alike and allows for sales both on and off premise.
"As far as the state is concerned, you could walk around Kroger drinking beer," Palmer said. "Of course, Kroger doesn’t allow that. And local governments are the ones who decide if they will allow on- or off-site sales."
Decatur, for instance, allows people to buy growlers to go from growler shops – and also sample in the store.
But Slice & Pint sits outside the city limits and wouldn’t qualify for that perk because it is both a retail operation, like a growler shop, and a manufacturer, by making beer.
Moran’s operation is also unique in that he rejects selling to a wholesaler. The state has just 12 other brewpubs, Palmer said, and all sell to that middleman, who can then make it available to go at package stores and the like.
Rules on the Department of Revenue website confirm use of wholesalers, as does the new legislation. A spokesman for the department declined to comment.
A brewpub owner in DeKalb County has created a series of beers designed to call attention to what his says is the state’s interference between his business and consumers.
The IPA in question effectively claims that brewpubs can’t sell their products to go.
A new state law is clear that neither brewpubs nor breweries can make those sales.
The brewpub does have the option to sell to wholesalers, who can then make the suds available to consumers. But that is not the same thing as getting a growler to go with your pizza.
We rate the claim True.
Slice & Pint menu, Sept. 24, 2015
The Atlanta Journal Constitution, "Georgia brewers hopping mad after state changes new tour rules," Sept. 30, 2015
PolitiFact Georgia, "Advocate for craft beer brewers correct on claim," March 9, 2015
Georgia General Assembly, Senate Bill 63
Interview, Crawford Moran, brew master and co-owner, Slice & Pint, Oct. 19, 2015
Interview, Nancy Palmer, executive director, Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, Oct. 20, 2015
Email interview, William Gaston, spokesman, Georgia Department of Revenue, Oct. 20 and 21, 2015
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