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Georgia Craft Brewers Guild Launches Crowdfunding Campaign to Fight for Legislative Change

posted Nov 5, 2014, 12:23 AM by J Shaw   [ updated Nov 5, 2014, 12:23 AM ]
In an off-beat quest to upend Prohibition-era regulations that many brewers in the state decry as overly burdensome, the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild (GCBG) has launched a crowdfunding campaign in hopes of hiring a lobbyist to work on behalf of the state’s craft beer industry.

The Guild has already tapped the services of Atlanta’s Thrash-Haliburton, a government affairs firm, but now plans to use the funds raised on Indiegogo to bring them on full-time.

Mo Thrash, president of the firm, explained his goal is to raise the profile of the Guild and the state’s craft beer industry at large.

“The Guild has never had any representation, never had anyone to guide their legislative efforts,” he said. “We’re going to make every legislator in the state aware of who the Guild is, who we are, what we do, and what we want legislatively.”

As of press time, the campaign, which launched today, has raised $1,245 of its stated goal of $30,000. The campaign is scheduled to end on January 2.

So what drove the decision to go the crowdfunding route exactly?

Executive director Nancy Palmer said the Guild decided to turn to the public for help simply because it doesn’t have the funds necessary to hire a lobbyist.

“Paying for a lobbyist out-of-pocket is a major expense for [our members],” she said. “It’s kind of an awkward thing to ask for crowdfunding for a group of businesses, but we really do need the public help.”

Guild members pay annual dues ranging between $500 and $2,500, said Palmer, adding that the organization has allocated as much of its own money to this effort as possible. Palmer would not disclose Guild revenues.

For generous drinkers – and economically-minded citizens in the state – who open up their wallets, their money will lend itself specifically to the effort of lifting bans in the state on off-premise sales at brewpubs and on both on- and off-premise sales at production breweries.

“Legislators in general are tentative [to change], but they are open to the economic arguments,” said Palmer.

Here’s the argument, according to the GCBG: modernizing the laws would result in 1,459 jobs in the state and create $375 million in additional economic impact.

“What we’re asking for, on-premise and off-premise sales, is legal in Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina, and that kind of resonates with [legislators],” added Palmer. “You kind of realize, we’re not only behind, but we’re behind by a few decades.”

Bob Sandage, owner of Wrecking Bar Brewpub in Atlanta, said his staff gets inquiries every day from customers unfamiliar with the laws who want to purchase beer to bring home with them to share with friends and family.

“I’d love to be able to sell beer to go,” Sandage told Brewbound. “In terms of actual dollars, revenue, percentage of our overall sales, we’re not talking like a third of our business, but it would probably be enough to staff another person.”

The last efforts made by brewers to streamline these three-tier regulations – in the form of twin bills HB 314 and SB 172 – were stifled when a study committee formed by State Sen. Jack Murphy found brewers need to continue working in the current framework of the law. At the time, Murphy said the status quo was designed to “regulate an industry that needs regulating.”

A phone call placed to Senator Murphy’s office was not returned by press time.

The GCBG is hoping that an official lobbyist will help sway the opinions of lawmakers in the state.

Palmer added that Georgia currently ranks 47th in the United States in terms of breweries per capita, but that the industry is nonetheless “nascent.”

“I think moving forward, education is the key,” she said.

The effects of Georgia’s legislative climate were made tangible outside state lines last month when Joey Redner, founder of Tampa, Florida’s Cigar City Brewing, confirmed his company “purposefully skipped over” Georgia in its out-of-state search for a second facility.

“They really don’t have the friendliest legislation so we kind of took [Georgia] off the table right away,” he told Brewbound at the time.

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