It took five years and a new governor, but on April 12 the General Assembly gave final approval to legislation that should lead to Sunday alcohol sales in Georgia.
Gov. Nathan Deal has said he will sign the bill. After that, it will be up to city councils and county commissions to put the question to the voters, and referendums could be on ballots as early as the November elections.
Beer lovers were elated when the bill finally passed. Many, including members of Georgians for World-Class Beer, had lobbied long and hard and attended rallies at the Capitol when it seemed the legislation was all but dead.
Somehow, though, I never quite caught their enthusiasm. I’m happy that, like 47 other states, we’ll have the choice to buy beer (or wine or spirits) on Sunday. But I don’t see it adding much to our beer culture. And I still think the July 2004 GWCB-sponsored law that allowed beer over 6 percent alcohol by volume was the moment that changed everything.
When I helped launch Southern Brew News in April 2005, sales of stronger, more flavorful beers were already booming. And I wrote the first issue’s “Notes from the Editor” as both an introduction and a kind of giddy apologetic. Mostly, it was aimed at people in places such as Colorado and Oregon who could scarcely believe the South supported any kind of craft brewing.
I boldly quoted “The Americanization of Dixie: The Southernization of America” by the venerable John Egerton in the hope that our diverse and distinctive food culture would inspire Southern brewers to break free from what Egerton called the “homogenized puree” of contemporary America and create a great beer culture.
Six years later, I’d say that hope is a dream come true. Almost daily, I’m reminded how far brewing in Georgia, and the South in general, has come.
Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewing keeps getting bigger and better and now ranks as the 27th-largest craft brewery in America. And other breweries, big and small, are making beer that could only be called culinary.
One recent Sunday afternoon at the Classic City Brew Fest in Athens, I savored the nutty elegance of Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale. Brewed by Leslie Henderson at Lazy Magnolia in Kiln Miss., it’s a World Beer Cup winner and probably the first beer in the world made with whole roasted pecans.
And there was Rosemary Swamp Fox IPA, an aromatic delight from Savannah’s Moon River brewmaster, John Pinkerton. It won a gold medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, displaying a delicious mix of hoppy and herbal flavors.
I hope to feature both Henderson’s and Pinkerton’s ales at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival — a culinary weekend, May 19 – 22, that will bring together an impressive array of chefs, mixologists, sommeliers, and craft brewers to celebrate the food and drink of the South.
I’ll be presenting “Southern Craft Brewers Spill It,” a couple of tasting and talking panels with Pinkerton and more award-winning Southern brewers. It will be a great occasion to reflect on how much fun we’ve been having, with some time to think about the future.
Beyond Sunday sales (and growlers at beverage stores), there’s a whole wide world of food and drink out there, folks.
Southern brewers are tapping into it, showing how beer has almost limitless possibilities, whether it’s paired with pecan pie or shrimp and grits or simply sipped on the front porch on a hot Sunday afternoon in Georgia.
“Southern Craft Brewers Spill It” — 10:45 – 11:30 a.m. Friday, May 20 and 3:30 – 4:15 p.m. Saturday, May 21 at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, atlfoodandwinefestival.com.
By Bob Townsend, AJC Drink blog