New law means direct sales and cocktails at distilleries
On Sept. 1, Georgia awoke to a day 82 years in the making. It’s the day Senate Bill 85 (SB 85) became law, allowing Georgia’s 14 active distilleries to sell their spirits directly to the consumer from their tasting rooms.
The state’s distilleries have been denied direct sales of any kind to consumers. The previous law limited them to offering only three, half-ounce samples of their spirits per person. To purchase a bottle of spirits from the tasting room, visitors first had to pay for and attend a tour of the distillery. Providing distillery guests with cocktails was forbidden by law without an event permit. The antiquated alcohol laws had remained unchanged since the state repealed Prohibition in 1935 and made it difficult for Georgia’s distilleries to turn a profit, let alone stay in business.
Under the new law, visitors to any Georgia distillery can purchase up to three 750 ml bottles, simple cocktails (if offered) and unlimited full-ounce samples without the need to purchase a tour first. The enactment of SB 85 could be transformative for Georgia’s spirits makers, say area distillers.
“From a business standpoint, the new law provides us with a revenue opportunity that will allow us to grow our production, add staff and grow our reach in the marketplace,” said Michael Anderson, founder of Decatur-based Independent Distilling Co. “As with any business, cash flow is our lifeblood, and when you are putting spirits in barrels to age, that is even more critical to our operations.”
Besides selling bottles and offering samples of its corn whiskey, bourbon and white rum in the tasting room, Independent Distilling now offers a few select cocktails.
“The cocktail aspect (of SB 85) allows us to showcase what our spirits can do,” said Anderson. “With our white rum, for example, I can give you a half-ounce sample neat to try and tell you how great it is in a classic daiquiri or I can serve you the actual cocktail and make you a believer.”
Old 4th Distillery produces vodka, gin and a ginger-lemon liqueur, with bourbon coming soon.
“We will have the ability to offer a wider variety of tour packages and will most likely offer a rotating menu of cocktails on tap,” said O4D co-founder Craig Moore.
Moore said it was difficult to predict whether and how the new law might change consumer spending habits with regard to Georgia-made spirits. “We are hopeful we can encourage more tour attendees to grab a bottle or two on their way out,” he said.
Based on estimates from the American Distilling Institute, Moore said that the average Georgia distillery would need to sell approximately 30 percent of its products from direct sales to see a profit.
“We are hopeful with the laws changing in our favor, coupled with the pending release of our bourbon, we can set ourselves on a path toward profitability and long-term sustainability,” he said.
Old 4th Distillery currently manufactures its spirits in a building on Edgewood Avenue. However, it has procured property at 536 Decatur St., where it will expand bottling operations and provide the public with a gathering spot and event space. The move, however, is at least two years away, according to Moore.
Jim Chasteen is the co-owner of ASW Distillery, makers of white whiskey, bourbon, single malt rye and apple brandy. Chasteen regards the tours as a critical component for educating and connecting with consumers. “The tours are incredibly important to understanding a distillery’s spirits and how they are made.” He said that the new law enables the company “to engage with consumers longer and in greater depth and offer them a real experience beyond the tour.”
ASW sells bottles and offers samples of its spirits in its tasting room on Armour Drive. Like Anderson and Moore, Chasteen said ASW will continue to evaluate how the law will affect the guest experience and adjust its tours and hours accordingly.
Chasteen, who is also the incoming president of the Georgia Distillers Association, said he was proud of what distillers have accomplished under the state’s former liquor laws, which were some of the toughest in the nation.
“This law is absolutely transformative for distilleries. It opens up so many possibilities, and that includes the ability to actually make a profit.”
The enactment of SB 85 enables Independent Distilling Co. to sell bottles and offer samples of its corn whiskey, bourbon (pictured) and white rum in the tasting room. Also, it now offers a few select cocktails there.