By now, buying a pint at a brewery in Georgia seems pretty unremarkable. Just a few years ago, it was a crime.
The Peach State’s brewers were mired in restrictive distribution laws and redundant taxes. As recent as 2016, a brewery paid the state excise taxes for the beer they produced. Visitors to taprooms wanting to drink beer from the source were forced to buy a tour of the facility, in which the state collected taxes on the price of the tour. The beer consumed as part of the tour were “samples” given out for free, up to 32 ounces. The final sting? Breweries then had to submit taxes to the state of Georgia for the free beer they weren’t allowed to charge for, based on the price it would sell for if it was legal to charge the customer for it.
If that sounds excessive, you aren’t alone. These restrictions on on-site beer sales, even hosting a food truck on-site, put Georgia brewery numbers at the bottom per capita in the United States. Meanwhile, wines were sold by the glass and to-go at Georgia wineries with few limitations. The beer industry was suppressed by a government that prided itself on being pro-business.
Finally, in 2017, Georgia took a step out of the stone age with the passage of Senate Bill 85, becoming the 50th state to allow direct sales to consumers. It marked the first forward progress for Georgia beer since 2006 when the state raised the legal alcohol by volume beer limit from 6% to 14%.
The Georgia Craft Brewers Guild (GCBG), which was founded 7 years earlier in 2010, helped move that needle. After all, Georgia was never going to be a beer destination without a group working on behalf of the state’s breweries. Despite the 2017 victory, there’s more work to be done. That brings us to this weekend.
The GCBG is hosting its first full-scale festival at Atlanta’s Atlantic Station. This unique festival will feature 65 Georgia breweries and more than 30 collaborations from across the state. The Guild wants this to be a 250+ beer reminder of what’s exciting about Georgia beer.
“Our hope is to make a premiere spring beer festival that you don’t want to miss,” says Rachel Kiley, COO of Monday Night Brewing and Guild president. “I think of something like Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer in Chicago with a Georgia spin, or something like that,” she adds. “I know getting there will take a while.”
The Georgia Craft Brewers Festival will also serve as a fundraiser for the GCBG, a 501(c)(6) trade organization. The guild doesn’t have the capital to undertake the festival on its own, so they’ve tapped Atlanta Beers Festivals to assist. The guild will get a fraction of the profits to continue its legal and advocacy work on behalf of the burgeoning brewery scene in the state.
Unique to the festival is a “Collab Competition” for all the participating breweries. This Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) sanctioned competition is split into two categories – “Big Beer” (over 7% ABV) and “Little Beer” (under 7% ABV). The judging will take place on Friday, before a special VIP Preview Session and brewer Meet and Greet.
“With the past two years behind us, we want to get back to what we love – Georgia Beer.” Kiley tells us. “This helps the GCBG advance the beer industry for all of us.”
Tickets are still available for the main festival on Saturday, April 2nd, rain or shine.