Georgia Craft Brewers Guild rallies for support

The guild wants 30,000 signatures to help change beer laws statewide
Nancy Palmer, executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild

Courtesy of Blake Tyers

Craft brewers and their supporters are nothing if not persistent. The Georgia Craft Brewers Guild launched on Monday, in their effort to get new bills considered in the upcoming legislative session (a previous bill, HB 314, was tabled last spring).

The GCBG created the website (with some help from the South Carolina Craft Brewers Guild) to attract 30,000 signatures from people who believe that Georgia can create more jobs by modernizing beer laws, allowing consumers the option of buying beer direct from breweries and brew pubs. Such an update would put Georgia in line with just about every state in the union (yes, even our neighbors in the South).

I talked with GCBG executive director Nancy Palmer about the launch and what the guild is hoping to accomplish with the website. Palmer recently retained a lobbyist on behalf of the guild, which represents the interests of all state breweries and brew pubs.

How does buying beer at a brewery for consumption at home impact the number of jobs in the Georgia beer industry?
In short, the more money that our breweries make, the more they’re going to spend. This industry is not keeping up with the demand for product in the state of Georgia. We’re consuming 6.2 million cases of craft beer, but we’re only making 2.2 million of that. Georgia could be making all of that beer, but we’re bringing it into state and sending our dollars out of state. If we could allow flexibility to our breweries, they could make more beer faster and see tremendous growth in people they can hire. It’s also about attracting other breweries to the state as well.

Georgia has 34 breweries right now. How does that stand up?
Based on population average, we should have 75.

I know some craft beer fans who think the intimate nature of Georgia craft beer is just fine. They don’t get why we need more breweries, like say, a San Diego market. What do you say to them?
Is Atlanta ever going to be Portland or Denver? The answer is no. Our infrastructure isn’t set up that way. A lot of breweries are opening and opening fast, so I understand some consumer fatigue. But the openings are incredibly positive. The more beer there is, the more competition. The more diversity in the market, the more selection craft beer drinkers have. It’s not just about what these breweries are making. When breweries hire more people, those employees spend money, they pay tax dollars, it goes back into the community.

Geographically, Atlanta is in a prime position to distribute throughout the Southeast and beyond. Do you think current laws have discouraged expanding breweries from coming here?
The evidence here is anecdotal but overwhelmingly, it seems to be the case. Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Oskar Blues—all of them opened East Coast facilities, and all of them did it in North Carolina. As a result, the Brewer Supply Group (supplier of malts and hops) opened a facility in North Carolina. They were looking in Atlanta because of transportation, but chose not to come here. [Florida-based] Cigar City wanted to expand; they didn’t consider Georgia. Stone Brewing was looking for another facility; they went to Virginia. We’re losing opportunities. This is for the breweries of the future, too. Anyone who is looking to open a brewery has a hard time justifying opening it in Georgia, if it’s a person who is at all well-traveled.

You got some help on the website from our neighbors South Carolina. Why follow in their footsteps?
South Carolina’s approach to changing beer legislation was positive. It reinforced that craft beer is an important industry. And ultimately, South Carolina was successful—they did a similar thing in 2011, and updated their laws again last year.

The website asks for people to give their name, email, and zip code. What happens with that information?
We’re cataloging the number of people who have signed—currently we’re at 811. We’re using the email addresses very conservatively (we’re not going to sell the email list). But there will be call-to-action moments—if there’s a critical vote, or we need a show of popular opinion—we want to connect with people at those times so they can voice their support. As we move into November, December, we’ll be working to have a bill. Once we have a bill, we’ll let our supporters know. The session starts in mid-January and runs for 40 business days. We have a goal of 30,000 signatures to demonstrate to the capitol that we’re an industry people care about.

How else can people get involved?
A big part of my job is raising money to help promote the craft brewers’ interests like this one. We work with festivals like the Decatur Craft Beer Festival last weekend, where we hosted the VIP tent. This weekend is the Georgia Craft Beer Festival at Candler Park.