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Changes floated to state alcohol laws
Senator chaired study committee
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Forsyth County News

CUMMING -- A few changes could be coming to Georgia’s alcohol laws.

After several meetings of the Georgia Senate Study Committee on Brew Pubs and Alcohol Tasting, two bills have been authored offering more flexibility on alcohol, including one that’s cleared the chamber.

District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy, who chaired the study committee, said Senate Bill 286 could bring about huge cost savings for Georgia’s wineries, which currently must send their wine out of state to be fortified.

The measure would allow wineries to fortify their own wine with distilled spirits, as long as those spirits were bought from a Georgia distillery. It would also raise from 21 percent to 24 percent the alcohol content percentage allowed by volume, in line with federal law.

The measure, which recently passed the Senate 48-5, is something Murphy said the wineries have been seeking to reduce shipping costs.

It’s also mutually beneficial, he said, as it also would increase tax revenue for the state and lower the final price of port wine.

“We’re losing the tax dollars and the revenue to other states,” he said. “When I got to looking at it, I thought this just doesn’t make a lot of sense at all.”

The second measure, SB 335, would allow retail locations to offer tastings of malt beverages and wine. Murphy said he expects it to come up for a vote in the Senate soon.

“Right now, the law says you can have beer and wine tastings in places that just sell beer and wine, but not package stores,” Murphy said. “But if they’re selling beer and wine and liquor, then why not let them have beer and wine tastings.”

It’s an approach package stores have been wanting for years, said Randy Miller, manager of Jax Beverage Shop in Cumming.

The store sells beer, wine and liquor, each accounting for about a third of its business. The ability to offer samples of beer and wine could increase sales as much as 25 percent, he said.

“It gives people the opportunity to find out what it is they like and take advantage of our case discount that we offer, as opposed to having to randomly buy things in search of what it is they’re looking for,” he said.

“That’s money, quite frankly, where they would rather put somewhere else.”

Miller would prefer that the tasting policy also apply to spirits, a request that came up during the committee’s meetings, but Murphy draws the line at beer and wine. “We’re not going to go down that road,” he said.

Murphy added that it would be difficult to prevent someone from visiting several places.

“I don’t think I want to let the state be responsible for putting people on the road after [several] liquor tastings.”

While the changes likely would help Georgia stay competitive in the ever-evolving alcohol industry, they also fall in line with the state’s “three-tier system” of distribution, which Murphy said shouldn’t be changed. In Georgia, producing, distributing and retailing beer must be handled by three separate entities.

“It’s been that way for 75 years and it’s not perfect, but it works well,” Murphy said. “And it keeps everything from getting out of hand and everybody being able to do what they want to.”

While there will be restrictions on flexibility for alcohol, Murphy added that the industry is quickly evolving, and Georgia needs to be willing to offer small concessions to stay competitive.