Downtown breweries, distilleries still a few months away

Augusta is a few months away from allowing standalone breweries and distilleries in the downtown central business district.

 

The city planning commission deferred action Monday on changing the zoning ordinance to allow smaller alcohol manufacturers to operate outside industrial zones.

In the meantime, board members will tour two local microbreweries, seek public feedback and study various aspects of the proposed ordinance, such as how much alcohol a brewer or distiller can manufacture under the new special exception, Planning Director Melanie Wilson said.

The Augusta code already allowed brewpubs, where homemade beer is sold in restaurants with food, and allows breweries in industrial zones.

But new definitions under consideration include the “nano-brewery,” which would allow the retail sale of up to 3,000 barrels per year, and the “pico-brewery,” permitting the sale of up to 500 barrels.

“Everybody has been talking about microbreweries,” Wilson said. “The discussion should have been nano-breweries and pico-breweries.”

The Broad Street entertainment district doesn’t have that much space for larger brewing operations, which require large amounts of water, storage and other resources, while limiting the amount a brewer can make protects those who’ve invested in larger microbreweries nearby, she said.

“The picos are great because they’re really small start-up breweries,” Wilson said. “That’s perfect to be in a downtown area.”

The owner of Augusta microbrewery Riverwatch Brewing, Brey Sloan, said she would have loved to locate downtown but was told by city officials the zoning code did not allow it.

The revision can wait a few more months because Georgia brewers won’t be allowed to sell their product over-the-counter until the fall – Wilson said long-awaited Senate Bill 85 goes into effect in September.

“We have time to do it right,” she said.

Until then, brewers can’t sell a six-pack to visitors – they can only provide samples to guests paying to tour the facilities.

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

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