Georgia breweries struggle with strict state laws

Published: Dec. 7, 2016 at 5:53 PM EST
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News 12 First at Five/ Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- There's a push to change the brewery laws in Georgia. Opening a brewery in Augusta is a challenge, especially when the rules across the river are better for that kind of business.

This is a struggle Georgia breweries have been facing for a while now. And soon enough every other state in the nation could have better laws for breweries.

Business has been good for Riverwatch Brewery in Augusta.

"Sometimes they all decide at the same time that this is where they want to be so it's like a mad house in here," brewery owner Brey Sloan said.

But it could be better.

"The bottom line is if I were able to sell beer here, I would be able to expand much more quickly," she said.

You heard that right, the irony that no brewery in Georgia can sell you a beer. Next year it could be the only state where brewers can't sell it to you directly.

"I can sell you a tour and I can sell you a glass, and I give you a card," Sloan said.

They can only sell beer to a distributor, not directly to a customer. Last year state lawmakers considered allowing those direct sales to happen but it didn't go through.

"There was zero interest up at the top leadership levels of having any look, they couldn't even get a study committee approved," she said.

One of the reasons is problems with collecting all of the taxes. But brewers don't see it that way.

"You make more profit more quickly, you expand more quickly, you can higher people more quickly, thus you would pay more taxes more quickly," Sloan said.

Even Georgia's Municipal Association, a group that advocates laws and helps cities, supports a change.

There's an easier option just across the river.

"I've had a lot of customers come in and say why didn't you just set up across the river and, there is a lot of appeal in that sort of thing," she said.

South Carolina allows direct sales from the breweries. And while you can't buy your beer at Riverwatch Brewery in Georgia yet, you can buy a card, your ticket into the brewery, that's fighting for change. On the back, there is information on a petition against the current laws.

"Georgia is supposed to be a small business friendly state, it just depends on what small business you happen to be," she said.

The Georgia Municipal Association is asking you to go to your local leaders if you want to change this.