Every Friday, Greg Kelly throws open the doors of his brewery and invites Atlanta in for a tour and a beer. Kelly owns Atlanta Brewing Co., which overlooks the Downtown Connector on Williams Street in Midtown. His brewery is just a short walk from Georgia Tech, so college students are some of his best customers.
Well, customers isn't the right word. Georgia law prohibits brewery owners from selling beer on the premises, so Kelly gives it away. To Kelly, it's not charity, but good business. The more people familiar with his beer, the greater the chance they'll fork over six or seven bucks for a six-pack the next time they're at the grocery store.
"I love those kids," Kelly says. "I welcome them to come over. But I do ID 'em and I do put a bracelet on them and I make sure they don't overdrink. I hope no one thinks that's wrong."
Well, Greg, now that you mention it ...
As it turns out, one city councilwoman says it's not even legal to give the beer away without a license. "Frankly, that's outside the law," says Anne Fauver.
Fauver has introduced legislation that would require microbreweries within city limits -- and currently there are only two, Atlanta Brewing and Sweetwater -- to pay $2,250 for a license to operate a tasting room. More significantly, the proposed law would limit each patron to drinking 15 ounces during a two-hour stay. Not even a pint.
"This is our marketing tool," Kelly says with a shake of his head. "If we had to pass a 15-ounce law, we wouldn't invite customers here." He'd probably shut down the tasting room.
Over at Sweetwater, co-owner Freddy Bensch wants to convert a wing of his brewery into a tasting room. But a 15-ounce limit for each guest would make it not worth the effort, he says. If a patron wanted to sample all Sweetwater's brands, they'd get maybe three ounces of each.
Bensch and Kelly have been lobbying Fauver. If there needs to be a maximum, they say, it should be set at 48 ounces -- the equivalent of four 12-ounce beers. As CL went to press Tuesday, the city's Public Safety Committee was meeting to decide the legislation's fate.
Fauver says she's trying not only to legitimize tasting rooms by licensing them, she also wants breweries on par with wineries, which have a 15-ounce limit on how much total wine they can give guests. (Never mind that there are no wineries in the city or that wineries can sell bottles on site.) Fauver says she recognizes that the alcohol content of wine is three or four times that of most beers, so she expects the limit on her proposal will be raised -- to perhaps 25 ounces.
"It'll go up, but it won't go anywhere near to what they're looking for," she says. "What they want is 48 ounces in a two-hour period of time. Now that's not tasting -- that's drinking. ... What they really wanted was a gulping license, as far as I'm concerned."
It's a far cry from other states, such as Colorado and California, where breweries are encouraged to give free samples and can sell beer on the premises.
Paul Gatza, director of the Association of Brewers, says he knows of no other city that sets limits on free samples at microbreweries. "That seems pretty meddlesome to me," he says of Fauver's proposal. "It seems they're hindering someone's ability to market their product on their own grounds. That's kind of loony."
Fauver says she proposed the law after hearing an "occasional complaint that younger people were imbibing too quickly." But mostly, she says, it was to bring the breweries in line with the law.
If the measure passes the Public Safety committee, it's scheduled to go for a full council vote Monday, Oct. 18.