This article appeared in the January 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
In Georgia, brewers are currently at a competitive disadvantage because they are not allowed to sell to the general public at their production site or associated venue. Georgia’s “three tier system” requirements do not allow for sales on site, while all of the states surrounding Georgia have done away with this specific limitation.
Craft breweries have the potential to become great destinations, especially with all the demand for walkable communities, and their products can command strong loyalty once a brand has been developed. That is...once a craft brewer selects a place, a facility, secures funding and passes the muster of state scrutiny, they are ready to begin cultivating their market in the marketplace they have chosen for themselves.
While the process is about site selection and matching the dream and vision with the right structure in order to perfect the product, it is also about the bottom line and profitability to stay in business. In Georgia, craft brewers margins are decreased by on-site sales limitations in Georgia law. As a selected marketplace, what would it mean to add 10 to 20 new full time jobs to a city of 2500 residents or less? The answer is simple: fewer local folks without jobs and greater stability for their families.
But there is more. According to Joel Iverson of Monday Night Brewing, an Atlanta-based craft brewery, for every 1 brewery job, 7 industry jobs are created. What’s the impact of an adaptive reuse of an abandoned industrial or retail space in a downtown area? The answer to this one could fill a book, but Iverson sees breweries, specifically, as bringing a unique mixture of manufacturing, tourism and urban revitalization. Monday Night Brewing has a mantra, “weekends are overrated.” In 2016, Monday Night Brewing hosted more than 80,000 visitors to their brewery.
In Athens, the Creature Comforts craft brewery is all about place and being part of the community. This is apparent by the stories and hopes expressed on their website, “Creature Comforts was founded by people passionate for starting a craft brewery in Athens, GA, a town that we love and that has the potential to be a craft beer hub and destination for the South East.” The owners of Creature Comforts Brewery overcame a great many obstacles to make their dream a reality. Housed in a 1940s car dealership, Creature Comforts is now a destination in the heart of Athens. They brew a host of different types of beers, which have been well received by the consumer. “Creature Comforts Brewery has taken an empty space and made something very special in downtown Athens,” says Athens Mayor Nancy Denson. She went on to say that the company “is one of our best corporate citizens—they participate in all the local events and do a great deal with our local non-profits.”
In Georgia, even with the greatest location, the best and most distinct brand ever thought up, there is still the problem of profit margin compared to like-size breweries entering the market in other states. When a business proposal in Alabama for an identically sized craft brewery start-up projects a profit margin 10 points higher than a model for Georgia, questions rightfully arise. This void in margin is not a cost of doing business, it’s a result of a limitation on the business allowed to be entered into, yet it could break the potential brewery before it ever has a chance through denied funding.
It is time to reconsider the limitations in the Georgia code and help the breweries realize their potential.