Local breweries speak out on Georgia limitation laws

Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 7:53 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - It’s the end of the week, and for so many in our area when Friday night hits, it’s time to unwind.

For others, you may just want to grab a beer at one of our local breweries.

Those cold brews help boost the local economy, yet Georgia laws limit sales for these businesses and force beer makers to find a middleman for distribution.

Local breweries are forced to go through distributors when they’re looking to get their drinks into grocery stores, bars, and restaurants.

Inside the taproom, there is a limit to how many to-go packs a person can buy per day. Georgia has the lowest amount in the southeast.

In Alabama, you can buy triple the number of to-go packs as in Georgia. Currently, it’s illegal for breweries to donate directly to charities.

The taproom manager for Savannah River says it’s tough to make a profit under the current regulations.

Jim Christian, the taproom manager at Savannah River Brewing Company, says, “We sell beer in the tap room. We also endeavor to sell beer in the market as well. But because of the federal three-tier system and the fact that Georgia enforces that, we can’t, the margins are so tough for us, right? We have to by law, sell to a distributor who then sells to retailers. And because of that markup, we have to undervalue our beer for the distributors to be able to buy it and to sell it so they can make a profit.”

We found out more about how some local brewers feel the current legislation is hurting local breweries in Georgia and how those are fighting to make changes.

Business owners say there are too many restrictions like requiring a third-party distributor to sell their beer in local stores or banning the companies from donating to charities.

We went to one of the local businesses pushing for change.

People are file through the door to celebrate the week being over at Savannah River Brewing Company, a locally owned brewery and breweries like this say many who go through these doors aren’t aware of the challenges they face.

“They really don’t know what is going on,” Christian says.

Christian has been the taproom manager for years now, he knows exactly what’s going on and the challenges local breweries face.

“Being a craft beer producer is a dangerous game. You know, we love what we do we produce beautiful beer. We have this great tap room and customers who come in and love the place. But the margins are so narrow, the profit margins are so narrow, it’s hard to be successful,” Christian says.

Challenges like going through distributors to get their product and stores.

“We have to undervalue the beer to be able to sell it to the distributors who then it can in turn sell it to the retailers,” he says.

Which makes it a challenge for Back Paddle Brewing in Lincoln County to get their product to Augusta.

Kyle McCloud, owner of Back Paddle Brewery, says, “For us the biggest impact is the more beer we can get outside of Lincoln County. Hopefully the more people will come into Lincoln County. We very much pride ourselves on our community here and we want to continue building that community by bringing folks in to visit.”

Inside the taproom, there currently is a limit of how many to-go packs a person can buy per day, McCloud and Christian both say all of these regulations holdback the growth of breweries, something the Georgia craft brewers guild is trying to change with legislation.

Joseph Cortes, executive director Georgia craft brewers guild, says, “This is what’s going to help makes breweries not only survive but thrive in Georgia.”

And Christian thinks change is a no brainer.

He says, “It should be very bipartisan. You know, it’s pro business. It’s pro small business. It’s great for consumers. It’s great for cities in general because brewery tourism is a thing.”

Legislation to make these changes won’t be up to be passed until 2024, until then these breweries are working to spread the word and get support so changes can be made.