As has been widely reported, Georgia’s brief fling with entering the mid-1930s (at least in terms of how and when we purchase our booze) lies dashed on the state house floor. Gone are the giddy day dreams of picking up a bomber of imperial coffee stout for Sunday brunch or continuing Saturday’s all-night revelry with a quick trip—on foot of course—to the gas station for another twelve-pack. Sure, fine, none of that was going to happen anyway. Senate Bill 10, the proposed legislation that would have amended the Sunday sales law, only would have authorized counties or municipalities to hold a referendum to allow Sunday sales. And even then, local entities could only approve the sale of beer and wine, and only between 12:30 in the afternoon and 11:30 at night. But still. It would have been a nice change from a few years ago, when then-governor Sonny Purdue, supposed opponent of the nanny state, famously vowed to veto any attempt to allow Sunday sales.
So what happened? The simple answer is “who knows.” In a move that might have shamed Huey Long (I’m sticking with my Depression-era allusions for a bit), Senate Republicans decided not to send SB 10 for a vote. Instead, they held a closed-door caucus and simply announced there was not enough support for the bill to pass. And poof, it was gone. No discussion, no vote, no nothing. In an interview with the AJC, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, a Republican and President of the Senate, noted that this type of secret vote had not been employed in the past. He might as well have added, “But what are you gonna do?” And he would have been right. After all, a rally at the capitol on February 23 only drew a small crowd, and, with the legislative session ending on April 1, it seems likely we will have to wait until next year before the legislature takes this issue up again. Until then, we’re probably stuck buying our booze during the week.
While online posters have floated the idea of challenging the constitutionality of Georgia’s blue laws in court, right now, such talk smacks more of dorm-room bluster than an actual plan of action. Litigation is costly and generally takes years before it winds its way through the court system. And there would be legal hurdles to clear as well. At the risk of grossly simplifying the issue, in a 1961 case (McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, if you care), the Supreme Court concluded that Maryland’s religious-based blue laws did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because they advanced a secular interest, namely creating a day of “rest, repose, recreation and tranquility.” While nearly fifty years old and not the final word on the First Amendment, this case remains good law and would provide state lawmakers with ammunition to defend itself. That said, in the same case, the Supreme Court also observed that blue laws whose purpose was to aid religion would still violate the Establishment Clause. Either way, there would be no quick resolution.
But there is some good beer news on the horizon: growlers could be coming to Atlanta soon. If you’re asking, “what are growlers?” Let me tell you, while not quite as awesome as their Harry Potter-ish name implies, they’re still pretty freaking awesome. Picture a glass moonshine jug filled with draft beer, fresh from the tap. When filled and sealed properly and left unopened in the fridge, they should last a few weeks. They are refillable, so they result in less waste than canned or bottled beer. Plus, since many craft brewers have some products that they only distribute in kegs, growlers give you the opportunity to sample rare or limited release brews in the comfort of your own home on those nights you don’t have the energy to venture to your local watering hole.
But rein yourself in before you get too excited. As of right now, you have to go to Athens to get them. At the end of last year, the Beer Growler opened there after some intrepid soul noticed a loophole in Georgia laws. Essentially, the Georgia law that regulates the sale of beer only prohibits certain behavior, and one thing it does not specifically prohibit is the sale of growlers by licensed off-premises retailers (i.e., not bars) that do not deal in distilled spirits (so also, no liquor stores). While the state may not prohibit the sale of growlers, state law does not explicitly authorize it either, so ultimately, the decision becomes a local one. Which bring us to Atlanta. Kraig Torres of Atlanta’s Hop City sounded cautiously optimistic when he reported that they were waiting on final approval from the city to begin selling growlers. Meanwhile, Decatur’s Ale Yeah! said they were working in conjunction with Wild Heaven, the new Decatur-based craft brewery, to bring growlers to their part of town. They had raised the issue with Decatur but had not yet received a response.