House Bill 99 was signed into law last year with the best of intentions. In addition to increasing the amount of beer a person could legally brew at home, the law also legalized homebrewing competitions and the transportation of beer to these competitions.
I sang the praises of this new law in a July 1 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article. “It will bring homebrewers out of their homes and more into a public space,” I said at the time.
As it turned out, this public space was square in front of law enforcement authorities.
Homebrewing competitions that had been operating under the radar suddenly came under increased scrutiny from the Department of Revenue, which stepped up enforcement of existing beers laws with the passage of this new law. Twain’s Billiards & Tap in Decatur was forced to shut down their homebrewing competition after they failed to get a permit for it.
The Savannah Brewers League got lucky. Their Summer Suds competition also was in danger of getting shut down. The City of Savannah took a look at the new law and, through an extremely loose interpretation of it, decided that since Savannah didn’t have any local ordinances prohibiting homebrewing competitions, they couldn’t object to it.
As an aside, several homebrewers erroneously blamed the new law for the heat these competitions received. But it has always been illegal in Georgia to transport homebrewed beer outside of the place where it is brewed. This law actually created an exception but only for permitted competitions. Yes, DoR had always been lax in their enforcement of the old law, but to say the new law is the cause for their newfound enthusiasm for alcohol laws is just plain scapegoating.
I admit that I was guilty at the time of thinking that since homebrewing competitions were now legal, the proverbial taps were open. I overlooked the stipulation in the law that
The local governing authority shall specify by ordinance or resolution the events that shall qualify as home-brew special events.
The state law, as is typical in Georgia in regards to alcohol, left it up to local governments to work out the details of these new homebrewing events. And almost none of them did. The surprisingly forward-thinking City of Suwanee was the only example I could find of a city proposing a homebrewing event ordinance. I’m not sure if it ever passed, though.
Thankfully, House Rep. Jason Spencer, friend of the blog and HB 99’s original sponsor, saw the difficulties with the new law and decided to rectify them. On January 16, he, along with pro-beer Rep. Brett Harrell, introduced House Bill 737.
This new bill tightens up the language found in HB 99 to encourage homebrewing competitions rather than shut them down.
“We wanted to clarify that it was the intent of the General Assembly to make sure these events had support from their local governments and created the proper ordinances for them,” Spencer said in an email, adding, “HB 99 has set out what it was intended, but we wanted to make a few tweaks to it, and of course, add a little more freedom.”
God bless that man.
More importantly, HB 737 truly brings homebrewers out of their homes.
“Absent passage of HB 737, removing homebrew from your personal residence for any other reason remains illegal,” Rep. Harrell said in an email. “HB 737 would legally provide a home brewer to transport up to one gallon at a time for any reason – return to the homebrew store to discuss the outcome of the batch, take to a monthly homebrew club meeting, take to mom’s for Sunday dinner – whatever the reason.”
I understand some people may not see this as a big deal. People take homebrew to other people’s houses all the time. I get it. But the passage of this law goes a long way toward reducing the social stigma Georgia has had against beer for the past 140 years. I mean, my home state didn’t even legalize homebrewing itself until 16 years after Pres. Jimmy Carter, the patron saint of homebrewing, legalized it on a federal level. We didn’t even have Sunday alcohol sales until two years ago.
Rep. Harrell serves on the Regulated Industries committee, so homebrewers have an ally where it counts. Let’s just hope that in their sprint to the campaign season the General Assembly doesn’t forget to pass this bill.