Georgia’s three-tier alcohol structure stays firmly in place

[private]Craft brewers and brew pubs made another attempt in this year’s legislative session to dismantle parts of Georgia’s “three-tier system” that regulates the distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages, but the system once again emerged from the session largely unscathed.

The three-tier system has been firmly in place since the end of prohibition 80 years ago and it remains firmly in place after the session’s adjournment.

Legislators did pass a bill, SB 63, that would open the door just a little by allowing craft brewers and distilleries to give away a small amount of their product as part of paid tours for consumers.

If Gov. Nathan Deal signs SB 63, brewers and distillers would still be prohibited from selling beer or spirits directly to consumers. A provision allowing brew pubs to make package sales of beer for off-premises consumption was stripped from SB 63 before it was adopted.

“It doesn’t change the system – it just expands it a little,” said Nancy Palmer, executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild. “But it’s something.”

Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), the author of SB 63, said the measure was a “jobs bill” and contended that allowing direct sales would encourage more brewers to start up a business in Georgia.

“Georgia is currently one of five states in the country that does not allow brewers to sell their product directly to the customer,” Hill said. “We’re currently behind even Alabama. All surrounding states allow it.”

Defenders of the three-tier system have long maintained that it prevents the abuses that resulted in prohibition and keeps large manufacturers from establishing monopoly control over all aspects of making, distributing and selling alcohol. Most legislators still appear to concur with that industry view.

Other alcohol bills that were introduced this session include:

SB 103, introduced by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), allows local governments to designate one Sunday each year as a Sunday when bars can be open. Deal signed the bill into law in time for the St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

HB 340, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), would have allowed bars to open on any Sunday that fell within the St. Patrick’s Day holiday period – defined as an annual period of to five consecutive calendar days that includes March 17. The bill passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

HB 535, introduced by Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville), would have authorized local governments to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption two hours earlier on Sundays: starting at 10:30 a.m. This “Brunch Bill” passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: brew pubs , craft brewers , Hunter Hill , three-tier system