I haven’t rambled semi-coherently about everyone’s favorite foamy adult beverage in a while, so …
- Tickets for the 3rd Annual Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting have been on sale for a while now. “But Tony, it’s barely July and the tasting doesn’t happen until January!” Listen here, the first two instances of this event sold out faster than a Death Cab show at a Starbucks, so when November rolls around and you start getting your mouth all ready for some real ale, and OOPS! there aren’t any tickets left … well …
- Now that the wild success of HB 645 has had two years to become part of the local culture, the craft brewing community is beginning to grumble about other regressive laws that prevent Georgia from cultivating the kind of vibrant brewing community of which it is truly capable. Recently, several local breweries were issued citations and fined by the Georgia Department of Revenue for listing names of specific bars, restaurants, and liquor stores that carry their products either on their websites or by other means. They were told this practice amounts to giving away free goods and services (advertising), which is illegal under the current three-tier distribution system, a system designed to protect the business interests of all three tiers (producer, distributor, retailer), but which really only protects the middle tier. No more emails that say, “Free Pint Glass night at bar X on X/X/XX,” or, “Come to restaurant X for a 5-course meal where the chef has paired each course with a beer from us.” If a customer calls a brewery and asks where that brewery’s products can be purchased (because you can’t purchase it directly from the brewery, you stinking lush) the employee of the brewery is prohibited from telling the customer the specific name of an establishment. They have to say something like, “our products should be available at most retailers in, uh, downtown Georgia.”
I’m not sure which breweries if any have decided to fight, but recent legal precedent appears to be on their side. A member of a local beer listserv posted a link to an April 26, 2005 Georgia Supreme court decision in FOLSOM et al. v. CITY OF JASPER et al. 279 Ga. 260. The Rodeo Cafe was cited for purchasing two newspaper ads, one containing the volatile word ‘champagne,’ and one containing the ghastly offensive phrase ‘Miller Lite.’ One of the many money shots from the 12-page decision:
The City argues that restricting the availability of information regarding alcohol sales will reduce the prevalence of both underage drinking as well as fortuitous drinking by adults. But the City cites absolutely no evidence in support of its assertions, and reliance on “‘speculation [and] conjecture’ . . . is an unacceptable means of demonstrating that a restriction on commercial speech directly advances the State’s asserted interest.” Id. at 507 (citing Edenfield v. Fane, 507 U. S. 761, 770 14 (113 SC 1792, 123 LE2d 543) (1993))
Taking the statewide legislative picture into account, I’m not sure mounting a defense based on free speech or commercial speech is the best strategy for small breweries vs. The Department of Revenue, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out. In addition to decisions like the one above, Costco recently won a victory (21-page PDF) in their case against the Washington State Liquor Control Board, about which, I’ve written before. Washington has a similar medieval distribution system as Georgia. Costco essentially said, “Wait wait wait. We buy more wine than all of you distributors put together, yet we have to go through you distributor middle-men and pay your crap-ass markups rather than go directly to the producer. Bollocks. Poopycock. Bullpucky. we’ll see you in court.” And the Western District of Washington U.S. District Court basically said, “Not even the 21st amendment can protect your ‘Steele Act’ from our ‘Sherman Act’,” and a bunch of other stuff. Washington will be given the chance to appeal, presumably to a Circuit Court of Appeals (?), but this seems like one of those that has the mettle to make it all the way to John G Roberts and crew.
What I’m trying to say is that things are afoot with liquor legislation, and it remains an exciting time to be a craft beer enthusiast.