This turned out to be a busy — and very interesting — legislative season for the industry, as it usually is. But this year seemed particularly more so with restauranteurs, brewers and distilleries all having something to gain — and lose, depending how you look at it.
Let’s start with the Brunch Bill (HB 535) a bill that cruised through the House and seemed destined for victory at the Senate floor. All the numbers were there. Every restaurant was poised to make on average an extra $480 a week, or $24,000 a year. More sales revenue for the restaurants means more taxes collected by the state, which the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA) estimated to be $11 million in added tax revenues.
“A win-win bill.” Says Ryan Costigan, Manager of Membership for the GRA.
So, this bill was a shoe-in, right?
Not so fast, my friend. Unfortunately, ideas that make perfectly good sense to most upstanding citizens in the real world are obviously bad ideas in the eyes of most politicians. It appears one — or, possibly two — Senators buried the bill to make sure it never reached the floor for vote.
Though most suspect the religious right, nobody really seems to know for sure who is responsible for blocking the bill.
“Whoever did it cost me $24,000 in sales” claims Bill Brown, owner/founder of popular There Gastropub in Brookhaven.
That isn’t chump change for any small business owner.
But there is optimism going forward.
“We learned a lot from this and feel confident that the bill is one year away from passing.” Says Costigan of the GRA.
That brings us to SB 63, dubbed The Jobs Bill by its supporters. This bill would allow breweries and distilleries to offer beer (up to 72 ounces per person per calendar day) or spirits (up to 750 ml per person per calendar day) in the form of a “free souvenir” along with the price of a brewery or distillery tour.
This battle has been raging on the political front for several years, but this year everything changed. The bill finally passed — or at least a version of — as distributors and craft brewers sat down at the table together and ironed out a deal.
For those out-of-touch with our State’s alcohol laws, Georgia was one of just a small handful of states remaining where someone could not purchase a growler directly from the brewery, or brewpub.
Speaking of brewpubs, this is where the controversy lies in regards to the version of SB 63 that passed. I say version because the bill underwent last minute amending to exclude brewpubs, leaving brewpub owners with a hangover.
It seems, for whatever reason, that the system treats brewpubs like the bastard stepchild.
“The system is what it is” vents Dave Larkworthy, owner of 5 Seasons Brewing. “And I have to abide by it.”
Brewpub owners put up the same money, and then some, to open their businesses but they are limited to the number of barrels they are able to produce and sell each year. Hardly fair.
And now, after all the countless hours of hard work and energy picketing for SB 63, they are asked to sit back and watch as Georgia Breweries are allowed to pour growlers to-go to all visitors, while they can not.
What message are we sending to anybody considering to open a brewpub in the State of Georgia?
“They certainly make it difficult to justify opening another brewpub in Georgia.” Says Crawford Moran of 5 Seasons Brewing (West and North) and newly opened Emory-area brewpub Slice & Pint.
So, the question begs, who did it? Who felt that the thirteen brewpubs across the State of Georgia were such a threat the we couldn’t allow them to offer a growler per brew tour visitor a day?
After getting absolutely no answers of substance, I was pointed in the direction of Georgia House Speaker David Ralston for answers. However, his office refused to return our phone calls.
We will probably never really know who is responsible for slighting the brewpubs, but I guess there is always next year.