ATLANTA — Customers of Georgia brewpubs could one day take home a bottle of their favorite beer and visitors to distilleries could enjoy bigger samples if a legislative committee created to study the issue makes those recommendations.
Thursday, witnesses from brewpubs and a distillery testified before the Senate Study Committee on Brewpubs and Alcoholic Beverage Tastings. The five-man panel will issue its report by year end, in time to influence the next session of the General Assembly that begins Jan. 13.
“We have a ways to go, but we’re coming to the end,” said Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, the committee’s chairman.
The hearing drew representatives from many of the 14 brewpubs and breweries across the state such as John Pinkerton, the owner of the Moon River Brewing Co. in Savannah and president of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild.
The brewpubs want to be able to sell refills of customers’ “growlers,” 64-ounce bottles. They’re willing to even charge more than the store price so they won’t draw away customers from retailers. They see to-go sales as a way to build brand loyalty with customers who’ll then buy more from retailers.
Customers want that convenience, according to Matt Simpson, a craft-brewing consultant.
“They are interested in being able to take craft beer with them wherever they go,” he said.
But a lobbyist for the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association, Martin Smith, told the committee retailers would feel threatened.
“They don’t like that competition,” he said, adding that retailers would retaliate by refusing to carry brewpubs’ products.
While they can’t sell beer for drinking later, brewpubs have no limit on how much beer they can sell to anyone drinking in their establishments, and the state’s breweries, like Terrapin Beer Co. in Athens, can repeatedly fill customers’ souvenir sample mugs.
The distillers can’t do any of that. They can only offer a limited number of half-ounce samples.
Mark Allen, the owner of Lazy Guy Distillery in Kennesaw, just wants to offer samples three times bigger and to include tastes all of the liquors he produces.
Legislation allowing larger samples and to-go beer sales has stalled in the legislature year after year, largely due to opposition from wholesalers and package stores. Pinkerton promised to return to the Capitol often next session, saying his organization is on the verge of seeking grassroots support to aid their cause.
“We’re about ready to get noisy and get loud,” he said.