Georgia craft brewers ready to leave prohibition laws behind

ATLANTA (AP) - By day, Jamey Adams works as a forensic chemist for the U.S. Army crime lab in Atlanta. But at night he trades his fatigues for a pint as he steps into the role of brew master at Arches Brewery, one of Georgia's up and coming craft enterprises.

"This is my professional hobby," said Adams who founded the company with four friends and is already getting ready to expand their capacity within their first year of operation.

But he has one major complaint: he can't simply sell a beer to his visitors.

Georgia is one of the last two states where breweries are still not allowed to sell beer directly to a customer. Mississippi is the other.

"People come in and are flabbergasted," said Adams.

The state still enforces a prohibition-era law that requires all alcohol products to go through a wholesaler and then a retailer before being sold to the public. It's part of a three-tier system where breweries must sell first to a distributor or wholesaler, which then sells to a retailer and finally to the consumer.

But state lawmakers are moving forward with legislation to bring Georgia in line with the rest of the country. Both the House and the Senate have separately approved the measure with support from leadership.

If the bill becomes law, craft beer lovers will be able to quaff a few ales during their brewery visits and take up to a case of beer home with them. Additionally, breweries will be able to serve food, a sticking point in previous regulations.

In 2015, lawmakers created a loophole in the existing law that allowed breweries to give away "free tastes" and "free souvenir" beer to take home, but only if the customer purchased a tour. That loophole would be abolished under this latest bill.

Aspiring brewery owners say the old regulations tied their hands.

"When we were starting our brewery, we couldn't count on a lot of revenue coming out of our tasting room because of the laws," said co-founder of Monday Night Brewing Jonathan Baker, explaining that craft brewing is a capital intensive business and that added revenue is necessary for initial growth.

Both Baker and Adams welcome the proposed legislation and are optimistic about the business opportunities to come. They are each planning on expanding operations as well as hiring new employees.

For these small businesses, the opportunity to sell directly to the consumer is an opportunity to create brand loyalty, explained Executive Director of Georgia Craft Brewers Guild Nancy Palmer.

Dylan Price and Audrey Greene, both 22, are two of those loyal customers. They live just down the street from Arches Brewery and were visiting on a date.

The couple was not a fan of the taste and tour system. "It just feels so regulated," said Greene. "I wish I could just get a beer and walk out with a six-pack. Isn't that the point?"