New law means di­rect sales and cock­tails at dis­til­leries

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - DINING - By Beth McKibben

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.”

CON­TRIB­UTED BY JULIE HUNTER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

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.

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