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New law brings positive change for Georgia brewers


June 02, 2017

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Just a few years ago, “drinking local” meant going to the grocery store and grabbing a six-pack of Sweetwater 420 out of Atlanta.  These days, in Statesboro and an increasing number of Georgia cities, going local means drinking something that’s brewed literally down the street.

American craft beer has been enjoying something of a renaissance for over a decade, with local upstart breweries grabbing more and more market share from macro brewers like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors.  There are 77 independent breweries in Georgia alone, with over 20 more planning to open in 2017.  Gone are the days when you had to travel to Atlanta or Athens to enjoy a Georgia brew, and recent changes in legislation are expected to further fuel the industry’s expansion locally and statewide.

Eagle Creek Brewing Company first opened its doors in 2013, and since then, Statesboro locals have been lucky enough to enjoy beer they can truly call their own.  While Eagle Creek’s beers are readily available in retail locations all over the state, there was a time when finding (and drinking) some from the source was a little difficult.

Under current Georgia law, breweries must sell their products through distributors, making direct sales to customers illegal.  There are a few ways around these laws, the most popular being the sale of brewery tours.  A flat fee, usually no more than $15, is charged for a tour of the brewery.  Tours include 36 ounces of free beer “samples,” which, for anyone who isn’t kidding themselves, is the whole point of taking a tour. 

This was Eagle Creek’s approach until last October, when they transitioned into a “brewpub,” essentially a restaurant that brews and sells its own beer.  For now, this is the only way a Georgia brewery can legally sell product directly to customers, and for Eagle Creek, the only way to stay competitive with larger corporate brewers.

“We made the decision to change to a brewpub out of sheer survival.  Pressure from large manufacturers on our distribution network caused major disruptions in markets where we were just beginning to get a foothold,” explained Franklin Dismuke, owner of Eagle Creek.  “We experienced many of our distributors flatly not wanting to move our products due to bringing on craft brands purchased by the large manufacturers that take precedence contractually over smaller breweries, which basically forced us out of the market.”

Dismuke went on to say transitioning to direct sales has had a positive impact on revenue and brand awareness, and could contribute to the future expansion of his brewery.

“The change has been tremendous for us.  It now allows us to be in control of our own business, rather than rely exclusively on distributors for survival.  These changes will allow breweries to hire more people…it will give them additional revenue to expand their markets and hire support staff,” said Dismuke.

Success stories like Eagle Creek’s are good news for Georgia’s beer producers, particularly in light of a recent legislative victory for the industry.  In early May, Gov. Nathan Deal signed SB85 into law, a bill that would do away with the tour system and allow brewers to sell directly to consumers once it goes into effect September 1.  Dismuke echoes the sentiments of brewers across the state, describing the law as “a major game changer in the Georgia beer industry,” likening it to “going from the dark ages into the age of enlightenment.”

Going forward, independent brewers will have a much smaller hill to climb when establishing themselves, and new laws will help keep money local, providing positive impact that stretches beyond a brewery’s walls into other industries.  “We strive to support as many local and regional businesses as possible,” said Dismuke.  “We also strive to support local and state tourism, and being a local destination, we do what we can to attract visitors to the area.”

Eagle Creek Brewing Company is located at the end of East Main Street, and will mark its fourth anniversary with a celebration at the brewery in July.  Its core products, including favorites like Spot Tail Blonde Ale and Georgia Tea Party Amber, can be purchased in cans while small batch, limited release beers are available on tap at the brewery.  


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