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Georgia’s allows taproom beer sales starting Friday, September 1

IMG_4752Since the end of prohibition, liquor laws have been under the control of each individual state. Most states enacted three-tier system laws that separated alcohol producers from retail outlets via a middle man or distributor. But, many states, even though they passed three-tier system laws, left wiggle room for small producers that allowed them to sell their products in self-run tasting rooms. Georgia was not one of those states. Until today, that is.

As Prohibition came to an end, lawmakers wanted a way to prevent the proliferation of “tied houses” or saloons that served beer from only one brewery. Before Prohibition, saloons were extremely competitive. Most areas had several, each tied to a different brewery. To enhance their beer’s prominence, brewers enticed bar owners to pledge fealty to them by providing loans for furniture and bar equipment under the stipulation that the bar only serve their beer. Breweries ran aggressive marketing campaigns and often applied pressure to their tied barkeeps to sell more and more beer. Often the result was overconsumption and drunkenness leading to deteriorating social situations. Add the specter of mob-controlled distribution and speakeasy networks during Prohibition and it was apparent a change had to be made.

The answer, or so the lawmakers of post-Prohibition America thought, was to put in place a three-tier system in which brewers or distillers could not sell directly to consumers or retailers, they could only sell their products to distributors who could then turn around and sell the product to retailers at a marked-up price. Lawmakers saw this as a way to prevent tied-houses and their overpowering influence. What they accomplished in many instances was to simply shift the corruption from overpowering breweries to distributors who forced breweries into distribution contracts that heavily favored the distributor and prevented producers from breaking the contract even if the distributor failed to market a product effectively.

This inequity is what led to a years-long fight for brewer’s rights in Georgia.

As early as 2001, Georgia’s lawmakers were conducting studies to determine the fairness of the three-tier system. In 2013, the subject was again taken up with brewers appearing before a committee to discuss the issues presented by a strict system that forbids them from selling to consumers directly from their breweries.

“This issue,” Said Rick Tanner of Cherry Street Brewing Cooperative to the commission. “Is more about competitive economic development than it is about alcohol distribution systems.”

In the end, the 2013 study simply made the suggestion that brew pubs be allowed to sell growlers of beer as long as it was purchased with a meal consumed at the brew pub and that it was partially consumed before leaving the premises.

Then, again in 2015, the subject was broached in the Georgia senate. The Republican Senator Hunter Hill from Smyrna introduced Senate Bill 63, that allowed breweries to offer “souvenirs” of their products to customers who took a “tour” of their facilities. While the bill fell short of small brewers’ hopes of being allowed to self-distribute in a limited capacity, it opened the door for future reform.

Finally, in February 2017 Senate Bill 85 was proposed. The Bill would allow the state’s licensed breweries to sell up to 288 ounces of beer — equal to 24 12-ounce bottles — to patrons at their taprooms with a direct sales limit of 3,000 barrels per year or about one million bottles.

Eventually, the Bill passed and Georgia’s governor signed it into law. Starting today Georgia’s breweries can now sell beer to their taproom visitors by the pint, bottle, can or even keg.

Across the state, breweries are hosting celebrations to mark the occasion. In Atlanta, SweetWater Brewing is marking the occasion with new tours and full pours for sale, while Red Brick is offering full pours and case sales. In Cobb County, Burnt Hickory is offering case sales of their brews at a special price, while Macon Beer Company in Macon will mark the day with a ceremonial first full pour.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2017 in Beer, Beer News

 

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Red Brick Brewing in Atlanta continues a Southern brewing tradition

Red Brick Brewery has quite a story. It began life in 1993 as Atlanta Brewing Company and is the oldest, continuously brewing beer company in the state of Georgia. It has endured copper thieves who stole the wiring out of a box that serviced the brewery’s chiller, nearly ruining a rather large amount of precious beer, and hard times that nearly closed its doors. But, the company, known as Red Brick Brewing since 2005 when current President Robert Budd took over the reins, flourishes regardless of what fate throws at it.

On a sunny and hot Atlanta Saturday afternoon we visited with Budd at the brewery tucked into a warehouse district near Atlanta’s Midtown. After just a few moments it was apparent that we were in for a treat and some very interesting stories. Our conversation ran the gamut of beer, from history to modern practices. And Budd had a story for it all. Budd, you see, is an excellent storyteller.

“We (Americans),” he began. “Were a beer-centric society since the first white man appeared here.” And, indeed that is true by most historical accounts. It has been documented that beer was the beverage of choice on the Mayflower due to unsafe drinking water. The South has a 330 year tradition of brewing beer, and Budd is not about to let that be forgotten. “We are proud of our traditions as a Southern brewer,” he says. But, beer is not always given its due as the social catalyst that it has been. As patrons began arriving for the Saturday afternoon brewery tour, filling the tap room and tables set up in a roped off area of the brewery, that fact was definitely not apparent.

Conversation turned to the subject of beer in Georgia. “Georgia is home to three of the four largest breweries in the South,” Budd said. And with over a third of the nation’s population one would think that Georgia would be leading the pack as far as beer production. But, because of antiquated laws, Budd says that is not the fact of the matter. And it is for that reason that he teamed up with Freddy Bensch of SweetWater and John Cochran of Terrapin to form the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild in 2010. Since forming the Guild, the three have mentored seven breweries in Georgia and look to work with many more.

The local craft brewing community in Atlanta is a tight-knit one Budd says. “We regularly pool our resources to get to the Great American Beer Festival. Usually with SweetWater marshaling the efforts.” This year Red Brick will be entering six beers in the competition; a double IPA, Wee Heavy, their anniversary ale called 17, Laughing Skull and amber ale, their Blond, and HopLanta. In the past Red Brick has been very successful and has procured numerous awards that are proudly displayed on the wall of the tap room.

After sitting and chatting in the tap room for a while, Budd offered a fresh beer and a tour of the facility. Further urging was not required.

The tap room is an airy space with a high ceiling, a glass  wall looking into the brewery at the far end, and a bar near the glass wall. The room was filled with laughing and chatter as eager patrons piled in to taste the brewery’s beers and await the tour later that afternoon. We stopped for refills at the bar and headed through the door into the brewery.

Red Brick looks very much like many other breweries, they have huge stainless steel tanks for fermenting and a few that are wood-clad. They also have a mash tun and brewhouse. But, it is what they do with these tools of the brewing arts that sets them apart and earns them the medals hanging in their tap room. Sipping on the beer provided by Budd, it was apparent that great care and effort has been put into getting things just right.

Over the past few years, red Brick has become known for their anniversary ales and barrel-aged beers. One of note right now is the brewery’s 17th anniversary brew simply known as 17. Before we moved into the brewery, Budd had slipped a couple of these gems into the refrigerator behind the bar and brought them out for us to taste. The brew is an Imperial Brown Ale aged in Jim Beam barrels for a boozy, Bourbon kick that is unmistakable and unbelievably delicious. Dubbed the Brick Mason series, Red Brick’s barrel-aged brews also include Vanilla Gorilla, Old Stock Ale, and their Double IPA.

As we sipped our 17, Budd related another story of the first anniversary ale the brewery produced. The story wound through the back roads of Kentucky, to the streets of New York City, and the freeways of Los Angeles. Along the way there were persnickety Bourbon distillers, Hollywood movie stars, and down home receptionists. Telling the story here just would not do it justice. Suffice to say, the barrels used to age Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon found a home with Red Brick.

After spending an hour and half with Budd, it was time to say goodbye, but not before one last story. Budd spun a story of what his father told him one day, “Son,” he began, “When you get ready to retire, make sure you live close to a brewery.” With a sly smile Budd added. “I did that one better.”

Indeed you did.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in Beer, Craft Beer Brewery, Travel

 

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