Breweries on both sides of the river facing troubles from pandemic

Published: Apr. 29, 2020 at 10:43 PM EDT
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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Craft brewery scenes are popular in both Georgia and South Carolina. But with the pandemic causing many restaurants to close, many taprooms across the two-state are going from seeing hundreds a month, to none in weeks.

And unlike restaurants, breweries can't exactly sell a lot of things to customers to-go.

Riverwatch Brewery in Augusta told News 12 it runs two revenue streams, 60 percent distribution, and 40 percent on-site sales. And distribution has decreased to near zero, as the bars and restaurants haven’t been open.

"With our taproom closed for the past six weeks, we are getting by on to-go 'dockside sales,'" said Brey Sloan, owner of Riverwatch.

And with some restaurants able to re-open, there might be some ordering coming online for breweries, but still not to the extent of what it was.

According to the SC Brewers Guild, South Carolina's to-go brewery laws are outdated. Breweries are limited on how much they can sell to customers.

This is similar in Georgia. According to Riverwatch, they can only sell 288 ounces (1 case equivalent) per customer per day to-go. They are not allowed to deliver, which would be amazing, according to Sloan.

Sloan has been following at the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild has been trying to get the legislature to allow an increase in per-person sales, but that has not been approved.

"I’m pretty sure the delivery idea would not be approved by the Georgia legislature - the distributors would be all over them for loss of revenue. Georgia craft brewers would love to be able to sell kegs - but that’s not likely to happen," Sloan said.

Because of these restrictions, breweries are having to dump out their no longer fresh craft beers because they can't donate it right now or give it away for free.

"If we can’t sell it before its expiry, then down the drain it goes," Sloan explained.

Riverwatch says it could donate the unused beer to a distillery for them to use in making sanitizer, but so far, managers have not been able to make that happen. Donations in Georgia must go through the distributor, so it would be rather difficult right now to donate to a charitable organization.

"All in all, our situation is also dire. I’m treading water right now, and we have a small cushion to fall back on, but I am not at all overly-optimistic about the future," Sloan said.

As the pandemic restrictions lighten, breweries in both states can only hope the traffic will pick up before it's too late.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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