Beginning this Friday, Sept. 1, breweries throughout the Peach State will finally be able to say so long to the bizarre, but legally required, “brewery tours” in Georgia and enjoy direct sales to customers thanks to Senate Bill 85.
It is a welcome change in Augusta, for sure.
Earlier this year, Riverwatch Brewery owner Brey Sloan described to the Metro Spirit how many guests are confused when they are offered a tour of the brewery instead of a pint when they walk through the doors.
“It is embarrassing, and they look at you like you have horns on your head,” Sloan said, laughing. “Under the current Georgia law, we are selling guests an educational tour package with a souvenir glass, so it is kind of a confusing system the way it is right now.”
Ever since the Riverwatch Brewery opened last year, customers who purchase a tour of the brewery are provided “free” samples of the locally brewed beer. The cost is $15 per tour for each person or $13 for those with a military ID, and the tours run once an hour at the brewery.
Georgia lawmakers adopted the tour-system for breweries back in 2015.
“It is kind of an odd thing to explain to people,” Sloan said. “Especially if they don’t live here in Georgia.”
But now all of that weirdness is about to come to an end this Friday.
Republican Sen. Rick Jeffares of McDonough, who also happens to be the chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, introduced Senate Bill 85 this year, which will allow breweries in the Peach State to sell up to 3,000 barrels of the beer they manufacture to consumers visiting the brewery each year starting Sept. 1.
Consumers finally will be able to enjoy beer by the glass and take up to one case to go each day without purchasing the “tour package” that is currently required.
For many breweries around the state, this new law will be a game changer, Sloan said.
“The biggest benefit is that it’s immediately going to increase the amount of revenue that I see as a small-business owner,” Sloan said. “That means, more equipment that I’ll be able to buy, which translates into perhaps making one of my part-time employees a full-time employee. And it is going to make it a little easier for me as well because, if I don’t have to do tours all the time, then I can have staff running things, and I don’t have to be there all the time.”
According to the most recent data from the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, while Georgia ranks 48th in breweries per capita, it also ranks 41st in economic impact per capita.
However, the industry is steadily growing.
In 2016, Georgia added 11 new breweries and brewpubs, continuing a consistent trend of growth.
For Sloan, opening the Riverwatch Brewery was a huge first step for the Garden City.
Riverwatch Brewery is the city’s first locally owned and operated packaging brewery since the demise of the Augusta Brewing Company.
In fact, one of the messages promoted at Riverwatch Brewery is “About Damn Time.”
“The last brewery in Augusta, Georgia, went down during prohibition and never came back,” Riverwatch Brewery’s website states. “That’s a mighty long time for the citizens of The Garden City to not have their own brew. Well, the wait is over. Riverwatch is here.”
But opening a new brewery in Augusta didn’t come without risk, Sloan admitted.
“I was asked by some folks who were not in this state, what on earth I was thinking of when I wanted to start a brewery in Georgia because the business climate was not good for breweries here,” Sloan said, chuckling. “The laws regarding breweries were so confusing here in Georgia that I think I’m not the only one who would have been deterred by the business impediment that we had when we opened, or we still kind of have until Sept. 1 when the new law goes into effect. I think there are a lot of people who want to get into this industry, and this new law will really help them.”
This week, Riverwatch Brewery will be celebrating the law change with an “It’s About Damn Time” raffle drawing during the brewery’s final tour on Aug. 31.
Those who have purchased a $10 raffle ticket get a chance to win the first pint of beer poured under the new law at Riverwatch Brewery on Sept. 1, an eight-person chef’s table at Edgar’s Grille, two tickets to Helms College’s Renew and Brew event in February and a one-year membership in the Riverwatch Brewery mug club.
Over at Savannah River Brewing Co., on Aug. 31, the brewery will offer a “Last Tour” special, where visitors can swing by the brewery and enjoy the standard “Drink It Here Tour” for only $10. The tour comes with the 9 oz. souvenir glass, a tour of the facility, and four 9 oz. pours of a customer’s favorite craft beer by Savannah River Brewing Co.
And, of course, stop by the breweries on Sept. 1 or after to enjoy a beer without a required tour.