Some 2,000 people gathered March 22 at Red Brick Brewing on Atlanta’s Westside for the inaugural Georgia Craft Beer Fest.
At a time when beer festivals have become commonplace, and craft beer is present everywhere from fine dining restaurants to gas stations and growler shops, it wasn’t obvious that there was anything out of the ordinary going on.
But the sunny early spring afternoon was historic because it marked the first Georgia-only beer event, bringing together 26 breweries and brew pubs, including widely distributed and well-known brands such as Sweetwater from Atlanta and Terrapin from Athens, and fledgling companies such as Reformation from Woodstock and Omaha from Omaha, Ga.
“It was the first time we had Georgia breweries stand together like that,” said John Pinkerton, the brewmaster and co-owner of the Moon River Brewpub in Savannah and president of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, which put on the festival. “There’s never been a festival where it was all Georgia beers.”
Of course, as many at the festival noted, not too long ago there were only a handful of craft breweries in Georgia.
In the past few years, though, the likes of Burnt Hickory in Kennesaw, Jailhouse in Hampton, Jekyll in Alpharetta, Monday Night in Atlanta, Red Hare in Marietta and Three Taverns in Decatur have joined the ranks of new breweries in the state. And a dozen or more are now in the planning, design or building stages.
Founded in 2010, the guild’s stated mission is “to promote, protect and further, in every lawful manner, the common interests of the members and the licensed brewing industry in Georgia.”
“A big part of the fest was to demonstrate to the public that Georgia beers have landed in a big way,” Pinkerton said. “There was a real positive vibe of pride. Everybody I talked to had something good to say about what the guild was doing to further and elevate the cause of Georgia craft beer.”
Still, with all the growth in craft brewing, Georgia laws lag behind almost every other state (including neighboring North Carolina and Tennessee) when it comes to the balance of power between breweries and beer wholesalers.
As chairman of the guild’s Government Affairs Committee, Pinkerton has lobbied the Legislature to implement changes that would help small breweries and brew pubs, winning a few battles but losing on some important bills filed in the 2014 session, including a measure to allow breweries to sell a small amount of beer directly to consumers.
“We all had a genuine stake in getting something done last session,” Pinkerton said. “But the Legislature made it very clear that it wasn’t even on the table for them this year. That’s unfortunate because the changes we are suggesting are safe. We all value our wholesalers and we are not trying to tear down the system. We know the changes we are suggesting won’t do that because they are working in 48 other states and they are good for the economies of those states.”
With the 2014 session and the Craft Beer Fest behind it, the Guild is looking forward to another first. On April 19, it’s sponsoring the Southeastern Craft Brewers’ Symposium — a one-day event in Decatur aimed at advanced home brewers and those seriously considering opening a brewery, with seminars on the science of brewing and the business of brewing, featuring brewmasters, brewery owners and beer distributors.
“A number of other Guilds around the country put on conferences and symposiums,” Pinkerton said. “We decided to target folks who are looking at the possibility of getting into the brewing business. What we’re hoping to provide is some good technical knowledge and some real-world knowledge on the business side.”
Southeastern Craft Brewers Symposium, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. April 19th, Courtyard Marriott, Downtown Decatur. Tickets, $130: xorbia.com/e/gcbg/southeastern-craft-brewers-symposium.
By Bob Townsend, AJC Drink blog.