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As the popularity of craft beer continues to grow, so do the legislative fights over how to regulate the industry.
In Georgia, craft beer brewers say they are at a competitive disadvantage both regionally and nationally because state law prohibits them from selling directly to consumers. They’ve been trying for about a decade to change state law. They are back lobbying the Georgia General Assembly this year.
In the meantime, craft beer, generally defined as beer brewed by relatively small regional breweries, continues to become more popular and profitable.
The national Brewers Association, based in Colorado estimates that, 207,000 barrels of craft beer were produced in Georgia in 2013 and that the industry contributed $33.9 billion to the national economy, $671 million to Georgia’s economy, taking into account its impact on breweries, wholesalers, retailers, jobs even brewpub restaurants and taprooms.
Legislatures across the country in recent years have wrestled with changing their alcohol and tax laws while weighing the competing interests of the craft beer brewers, the powerful big beer manufacturers and wholesalers. Part of the argument for the law change in Georgia is the relatively unique restrictions that exist here on beer brewers.
Georgia "is one of only five states that do not allow beer factories or 'production breweries' to sell beer for neither on-premise consumption (pints) nor off premise consumption (packaged beer)," Nancy Palmer, executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild said Monday.
Politifact decided to check the claim.
We reached out to Palmer, who warned us that "this issue is a little complicated."
"Section 2 of the 21st Amendment provides huge amount of leeway to the states to regulate alcohol, and each has come up with as many laws about it as there are stars in the sky," she said. "The laws on alcohol vary from state to state significantly more than gun control or the control of illicit drugs."
She said her research showed that only four states, besides Georgia, have laws prohibiting direct sales by breweries to consumers. They are West Virginia, Hawaii, Mississippi and North Dakota.
We contacted Palmer’s counterpart with the brewers’ associations in Mississippi. Mark Henderson of Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company confirmed that Mississippi does not allow its breweries to sell beer for on-site or off-site consumption.
Todd Sattler, with the brewers association in North Dakota, said, however, that restrictions are not as tight there.
"We have on premise sales and growler sales," he told PolitiFact.
In West Virginia, a brewer or resident brewer "cannot even sample or sell a pint for on- or off-premise consumption," said Brian Arnett with Mountain State Brewing Company.
But there’s a loophole in West Virginia: "You can buy a brewpub license that allows sampling and pint sales, Arnett said.
Palmer said Hawaii has already addressed the issue by incorporating brewpubs with its breweries so direct sales can take place, similar to what Arnett mentioned is happening in West Virginia.
Direct sales are believed to be critical to a brewery’s success in much the same way wine sales contribute to a winery’s bottom line, she said.
Craft brewers have been pushing Senate Bill 63, which initially would have allowed breweries to sell pints of beer to the public in an amount not to exceed 72 ounces per person per day and to sell no more than 144 ounces of packaged beer to-go per person, per day.
However, a substitute passed out of committee Friday that prohibits direct sales by breweries. It alters the current tour structure so that brewers can give away 36 ounces on-premises during the tour (compared to the current 32 ounces) as well as a "souvenir" malt beverage container of no more than 64 ounces to-go.
The Georgia Craft Brewers Guild is lobbying for breweries to have the right to sell directly to "consumers. The group argues craft beer breweries in the state are at a disadvantage because "Georgia is one of only 5 states where breweries can’t sell you a pint of beer to drink or sell you any to go."
They were identified as West Virginia, Hawaii, Mississippi and North Dakota.
But we found that at least North Dakota doesn't belong on the list with Georgia.
'It's clear that most states have already cleared the path for these sales. Others are moving in that direction. That’s the Georgia guild’s over-arching point.
We rate the statement as Mostly True.
Senate Bill 63 as amended
Interviews and emails with Nancy Palmer, executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild
Beer Jobs Bill Drops in State Senate, Senator Hunter Hill is Lead Sponsor, Tuesday, February 3, 2015
"Beer bill passes committee, but with major changes," by Kristina Torres, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday, May 6, 2015
Email and phone call with Todd Sattler, with the brewers association in North Dakota
Email with Brian Arnett with Mountain State Brewing Company.
Email with Mark Henderson of Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Mississippi.
Email with Paul Gatza of the Brewers Association
Email with Thomas Kerns, Big Island Brewhaus, Kamuela, Hawaii
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