Scuttlebiz: Brewery bill will let the craft beer flow

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Damon Cline, Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, in Augusta, Georgia. TODD BENNETT/STAFF

If you like your local craft beer, you can keep your local craft beer.

And under a proposed Georgia law, you might be able to enjoy it more often – including at the brewery itself.

Legislation was filed last week that would clear the way for direct beer sales at Georgia craft breweries and brew pubs, eliminating the provision in the current law that requires people to purchase a brewery “tour” in order to sample the suds.

Senate Bill 85, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jeffares, R-McDonough, would allow consumers to buy up to a case a day directly from a brewer. It also would allow brewers to sell beer for on-site consumption, just like a licensed bar or restaurant.

The bill is welcome news to brewers and tourism officials, who have argued Georgia is been missing out on the craft beer boom that’s been sweeping the nation in recent years. Boosted by startups such as Augusta’s own Riverwatch Brewery and Savannah River Brewing Co., the number of permitted breweries in the Peach State has roughly doubled since 2010.

There’s a better-than-average chance the bill will become law, as it has support from brewers and beer wholesalers, the folks who have played middleman in the three-tier distribution system that has existed since the end of Prohibition.

Martin Smith, executive director of the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association, called the bill a reasonable compromise that recognizes “the tremendous benefit this industry has on the local and state economy” while ensuring Georgia “remains a great state to brew beer.”

Here’s what the “Brewery Direct Sales Bill” spells out for licensed breweries:

All may sell to the public for on-site consumption.

All may sell to the public for off-site consumption up to 288 ounces (one case) per person per day.

None can exceed more than 3,000 barrels (about 1 million bottles) per year in direct sales, regardless of on- or off-site consumption.

All are responsible for remitting state and local sales and excise taxes.

If you’re wondering why the law imposes volume limits, it is an attempt to maintain a check-and-balance system to prevent big corporations from vertically integrating and squeezing out smaller competitors and controlling the retail channel, as is the case in foreign countries without a three-tier system.

Realize this: The multibillion-dollar global brewing conglomerates have the same rights as the mom-and-pops. Whatever gate you open for one, you open to all. Fortunately, this law appears to be a win-win-win for small brewers, their fans and distributors alike.

Now, all that’s left to be done is for Georgia cities and counties (I’m talking to you here, Augusta) to bring their licensing and zoning laws into the 21st century to allow brewers and distillers out of industrial zones and into places where people actually go to enjoy a drink.

SPEAKING OF BOOZE: Alcohol sales may be on the way to the Regal 20 Augusta Exchange. The west Augusta theater recently upped its game by adding recliner-style seating, similar to those found at Georgia Theater Co.’s semi-new Riverwatch 12 Luxury Cinemas at the Village at Riverwatch. Regal Entertainment Group is now prepared to match Riverwatch’s bar service this spring.

Its application with Richmond County seeks approval for an on-premise license as well as Sunday sales. A hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 28.

Serving alcohol in movie theaters isn’t exactly a new trend, and there haven’t appeared to be any problems at Riverwatch 12 as far as I can tell. The only criticism I have with the theater is its woefully small restrooms.

PLOWING AHEAD: Gov. Nathan Deal said the state would waste no time getting started on Augusta University’s $50 million Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center at the old Golf and Gardens property. And he wasn’t kidding.

Local firm W.R. Toole Engineers already has been hired to do preliminary work at the site, which is being touted as AU’s Riverfront Campus. Project funding appears to be coming out of the amended 2017 budget, which is $606 million above what lawmakers sent Deal last year.

AU President Brooks Keel told the Chronicle’s Tom Corwin this past week that AU is following a “very aggressive timetable.”

“(Deal) wants ground to be broken by this spring – that’s this spring, not next spring – and for the facility to be open in 18 months following that. It will coincide beautifully with the (U.S. Army) Cyber Command at Fort Gordon opening up right about that same time,” Keel said.

In addition to housing AU’s Cyber Institute, the facility will serve as a cyber training school for all state agencies. State employees and officials coming to Augusta for business instead of Atlanta? Now there’s a nice change of pace.

“We’re really excited about what the economic development aspects are going to do for the city of Augusta as business and industry come to that facility,” Keel said.

A BRICK BY ANY OTHER NAME…: I’m not sure who’s supplying building materials for the 150,000-square-foot cyber facility, but Augusta makes enough bricks every year to build dozens of them.

If you’ve been around this town a while, you’ll recognize the name Boral Bricks. If you’ve really been around this town a while, you’ll know the brick maker by its previous name, Merry Brothers Brick & Tile.

Now you have a new name to get used to: Meridian Brick.

That’s the post-merger moniker Atlanta-based Boral Bricks and Charlotte, N.C.-based Forterra Brick have selected for their joint venture, which closed late last year. The Meridian name was unveiled earlier this month.

Boral’s acquisition of Forterra, previously known as Hanson Building Products, creates North America’s largest brick manufacturer, with 27 clay brick manufacturing plants, two concrete brick plants and 41 distribution centers.

The interesting thing is that the merger will have no negative impact on the Augusta clay brick operations, which account for about a quarter of the 1.3 billion bricks Boral makes each year.

How about that: a merger that doesn’t result in layoff or a closing?

This joint venture appears to be symbiotic: Meridian gets Forterra’s Canadian footprint while leveraging the Boral distribution network, which includes the industry’s only company-owned stores.

And the whole thing will be run from Atlanta by CEO Paul Samples, a longtime Boral executive who is no stranger to Augusta. Or to me, for that matter. Just for giggles, I looked in the archives the other day; the first time I interviewed him was in 1999.

That’s like, billions of bricks ago.

WELL RAISE MY RENT!: Apartment rent is going up in metro Augusta, according to the folks over at Zumper, the San Francisco-based online rental service. Its January National Rent Index shows median prices for one-bedroom units in Augusta at $670 a month, up 11.7 percent from the same period last year, making the metro area the 79th most-expensive rental market out of the 100 it surveyed.

Apartment construction has been robust all over the nation; multifamily construction permits increased 10.3 percent in 2016, more than twice the rate of single-family home construction.

Signs of apartment construction are all around, including at the 71-acre formerly wooded section of North Leg Road across from the Coca-Cola bottling plant, where developers are working on a 256-unit complex called The Gardens at Harvest Point. Expect more projects like it as interest rates go up and more stringent lending practices make it harder for people to qualify for mortgages.

E-Z ON THE GRASS: Textron Specialized Vehicles this week unveiled its latest innovation in the E-Z-GO golf car line: lithium batteries.

The company’s ELiTE Series golf cars are powered by Samsung SDI lithium technology, which don’t require watering, terminal post checkups or cleaning like traditional lead acid batteries.

Textron says the lighter batteries reduce the golf car’s overall weight, resulting in less turf damage and soil compaction. They also are said to be 59 percent more efficient than the batteries used in crosstown competitor Club Car’s Precedent model, and 52 percent more efficient than Newnan, Ga.’s Yamaha Drive ACs.

“ELiTE Series vehicles are the biggest advancement in golf car technology since E-Z-GO introduced the E-Z-GO RXV golf car, with its groundbreaking AC drive and IntelliBrake technology,” Textron Specialized Vehicles Vice President Michael R. Parkhurst said in a statement announcing the series.

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Georgia Bank & Trust, the metro area’s second-biggest and oldest community bank, was acquired earlier this month by South State Bank. But the name and signs won’t change until after next month’s Presidents’ Day weekend.

The first batch of signs was being put up this past week. A loyal Chronicle reader with a nose for news, we’ll call him “Barry Paschal,” happened to see signs going up at the bank’s office at 3133 Washington Road and snapped a few photos before they were shrouded in a GB&T-branded temporary cover.

The covers will all be removed when the banks reopen after the holiday weekend on Feb. 21.

South State’s parent, South State Corp., acquired GB&T’s holding company, Southeastern Bank Financial Corp., on Jan. 3 for a reported $435.1 million, about $100 million more than the stock-swap deal was valued when the merger was announced last year.

On Friday South State said the final figure will be released in its first-quarter earnings report.

However it shakes out, the deal will be the largest acquisition of an Augusta-based company since … well, I don’t know. It’s certainly the biggest local bank play since First Union acquired Georgia Railroad Bank in 1986 in a deal valued at the time at $779 million, or about $1.7 billion in today’s dollars.

South State, by the way, reported on Friday fourth-quarter profits of $24.2 million, which, after merger-adjusted costs, came to $1.15 per share. For the year, the company reported profits of $101.3 million, or $4.18 per share.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or

By Damon Cline Fri, Jan 27, 2017 @ 11:59 am