You know you’re dealing with some pretty antiquated legislation when a business is prohibited from selling its own product. But because Georgia is one of only five states that have failed to modernize its craft brewery laws, such establishments in the state see restrictions on food vendors on brewery grounds, the right to advertise brewery events and even the ability to sell, well, beer. Since 1933, the state has employed a three-tier alcohol distribution system, in which producers – such as craft breweries – sell to distributors, who then sell to retailers. Many craft breweries claim that this restrictive system, along with some of the aforementioned outdated brewery laws, keep them from thriving creatively and selling the highest quality product, as well as prevent the creation of thousands of jobs and tax dollars.
So, why work for a brewery in Georgia, then? Quite simply, it’s because of people like Carmen Miranda, a University of Georgia graduate, who can’t imagine calling any other place home – and also happens to have a passion for craft beer. The Brewery, Tour, and Events Manager at Terrapin Beer Company in Athens, Ga., Miranda has worked at the brewery since August 2010, both doling out glasses of Hopsecutioner (a Terrapin favorite) and planning events at its site on Newton Bridge Road. In her four and a half years working in the beer industry, Miranda has witnessed the very real effects of Georgia’s outdated brewery laws.
I met with Miranda in February, on an overcast day ironically inappropriate for drinking beer. We sat down in her office directly above Terrapin’s tasting room to talk about how Georgia’s laws affect craft brewing companies like hers.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are some of the brewery laws that you see as outdated – the ones that affect Terrapin?
It’s pretty straightforward, actually. One, we cannot sell any beer straight to consumers, because we’re part of a three-tier system. We’re not asking to get rid of the three-tier system, we’re just asking for a small allowance that will allow us to sell beer to people in our tasting room. We also can’t sell food — that’s probably one of the silliest laws because, you know, you want people to eat and maybe slow down their consumption, right? We also can’t tell people where to get our beer. It doesn’t make any sense, and when people come in from out of the state, we look very foolish. We can’t advertise our events, because they’re on account. So, say we want to put flyers up around town – we can’t do that. [The laws] are just antiquated, nobody has changed them, and a lot is to gain by not changing them — for distributors. They have a lot to gain because they have a lot of power in this three-tier system.
Do you have any specific examples of how these laws affect business here?
If you’re starting a brewery, for the first little bit you’re investing every little bit of money that you have into making beer and then selling it. Meaning the equipment, the raw ingredients, and then the people you hire to sell that beer, right? The return that you’re getting at this early stage is really small, because you’re selling at wholesale pricing to distributors. Distributors sell to retailers, and the retailers then sell to the consumers. That’s called the three-tier system.
So, if small breweries were able to sell their beer directly to consumers and make that mark-up per pint, say, like a bar does, it would just be easier to start a brewery; it’d be easier to keep open your little brewery and for it to grow.
Do you have anything to add about how changing the laws could benefit the community at large?
If you’re somebody who likes craft beer, right away you’re going to benefit from having more breweries open in your area – smaller breweries that give you a craft, handmade product. It’s going to be good for our communities, because everyone benefits from more jobs, right? So, if you own a hotel, or you own a shop, people that go to that brewery are going to go to your shop, and they’re going to buy your goods. Your kids and schools are
going to benefit from the taxes from every brewery that opens up. That’s just the fact. It benefits the entire system, the entire community. It’s a win-win-win-win.
So, distributors are the ones on the other side?
We’re not trying to say “on the other side.” We’re all on the craft beer team. We definitely love and need our distributor partners. However, this rule is a drop in the bucket to them, but for a brewery that is starting up – that could be pretty big, to sell 300 pints a night instead of selling glassware. Now, we’re not allowed to sell beer, the beer is free. We’re also not allowed to sell promotional tours – the tours are free also. The only thing we are selling is a pint glass. The pint glass is ten dollars, you can choose to get it, or you can choose to say, “No, I already have enough pint glasses,” and then we are, by law, required to give you another way to drink beer here for free. So, on an average night, we might have 40 people come in to drink for free, and this is a college town, so you can imagine that’s a pretty popular option. So we’re giving away about as much beer as we’re selling through the glassware requirement.
Why stay in Georgia, then? What makes it a great place for craft beers?
Different people will open different breweries for all kinds of reasons. So, Spike [Buckowski], our brew master, and our president, John Cochran – they’re the cofounders, and they love Athens. John is a graduate of UGA. Georgia’s their home. Georgia is where their families are. So, yeah, let’s bring good beer to Georgia, right? But we’re in, like, the bottom six states for growth in craft beer. And that’s not because people here don’t want to drink craft beer, I imagine it’s because there aren’t that many breweries here that can thrive. They can’t survive.
What can someone do – just the average person that enjoys going to breweries – to help with the laws?
You can go to GABeerJobs.com and sign the petition. Donate to our Go Fund Me page, where we’re accepting donations and you get a bunch of cool rewards, like free tours and free hats and stuff like that. Also, write your local lawmakers and tell them, “Hey, this is good for our community, this is good for our state. It’s good for craft beer. We support this.”