The booming popularity of craft brews, brew pubs and new kinds of package stores has left local governments playing catch-up to make their alcohol codes accommodating to the growing business.
The City Council will vote on an updated alcohol ordinance with sections pertaining specifically to niche markets of the beer industry at its next meeting set for 7 p.m. May 14 at City Hall, 205 Lawrence St.
Proposed changes to the city alcohol code include adding a section specifically for brew pubs, which are restaurants that make half their money from food sales and brew beer on site. Brew pubs can manufacture up to 5,000 barrels per year. No brew pubs operate now in Marietta.
Other changes address offering beer and wine samples.
Councilman Johnny Walker was approached by the owners of Schoolhouse Rock Beer and Brewing, a business that teaches classes in home brewing, who wanted to be able to offer samples to students. The company, located at 800 Whitlock Ave., would have that ability under the new ordinance.
Walker said he hopes the code change, if adopted, allows other similar businesses to open.
“We need to get in with the times,” Walker said.
Councilman Grif Chalfant said he was also approached by several different business owners in the craft brew market who asked him about updating the city’s ordinance.
“I think it’s just the times are calling for it. It’s just a young industry for a younger clientele,” Chalfant said. “It didn’t come from one direction or one person.”
The city has lagged behind others in metro Atlanta, Chalfant said, and needs to adapt.
“We really needed to revamp the ordinance to take care of the craft beer industry and growlers,” Chalfant said.
Councilman Stuart Fleming agreed it’s important to have business-friendly ordinances.
“I’m pleased that Marietta is updating it ordinance to align with what’s going on in the marketplaces today,” Fleming said.
One proposed change to Marietta’s alcohol ordinance is long overdue, said Scott Oder, co-owner of Moondog Growlers at 688 Whitlock Ave.
The updated code adds a section specifically concerning growler retailers and inserts a provision allowing the stores to offer beer samples.
Growlers are reusable glass jugs that are filled with draft beer for off-site consumption. They are sealed in the store, allowing customers to take fresh draft beer home.
Moondog offers 2-pint and 4-pint growlers that have a refrigerated shelf life of between seven and 10 days unopened and 36 hours after opening.
Because Moondog has operated under Marietta’s package store ordinance, it has not been able to offer samples.
Samples are vital to the store’s ability to introduce customers to new beers, Oder said.
“It’s knowledge,” Oder said. “We have opened our business and built our business around teaching people about beer as much as we sell beer.”
A craft beer novice may taste “with their eyes,” he said, and misjudge the flavor of one of the store’s 30 beers, passing up one they may have liked or selecting a drink they don’t enjoy. Oder said his store exists overwhelmingly for beer drinkers who aren’t well-versed in craft beer.
“If I introduce you to a craft beer and I was trying to tell you that it’s ‘hoppy’ or ‘malty’ and you don’t know what that term means, samples will answer that for you,” Oder said.
Growler retailers would be able to offer three 1.5-ounce samples from its taps to customers per day under the proposed ordinance.
It’s a different kind of drinking, Oder said, adding his customers “drink for enjoyment, not for effect.”
“We don’t have customers who don’t come in to binge drink. … They’ll have one or two good craft beers and they’ll call it a night,” Oder said.
The ordinance would also create a wine tasting license for wine-only stores, allowing tastings “on limited occasions when a customer requests a sample of a wine.”
Moondog has seen success at its flagship location on Whitlock Avenue, which opened in February 2012.
Oder has since opened two other stores in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, but he says Marietta is the last of the three cities to revise its alcohol ordinance to accommodate growlers.
“Marietta has never had any kind of new law that has to do with growlers,” Oder said.
Samples are offered in Moondog’s Dunwoody and Sandy Springs stores, Oder said, where employees pour three small tasting-sized glasses, called a “beer flight,” for customers to try based on their preferences.
Oder said those locations have a different dynamic.
They feel more like a place to hang out and learn about different beers, he said, as employees chat with customers about the beverages they offer.
“I think, truly, Marietta is playing catch-up. They may have considered it being a trend at first, but craft beer is no longer a trend only,” Oder said. “It’s here and it’s growing double digits every year.”
In Dunwoody, the Moondog sells both growlers for off-site consumption and operates under a pouring license, which allows the store to serve sat its bar the same beer it sells for off-site consumption.
Customers can also order meals from nearby restaurants to be delivered to the store.
Dunwoody Mayor Mike Davis is a Moondog customer and an avid home brewer.
He said the 5-year-old city had an advantage in drafting its alcohol codes. It approached businesses, such as Moondog, to find out what they thought needed to be included in the city’s alcohol ordinance.
The city wanted to be forward thinking, he said, and knew it needed to support an industry that he said is here to stay.
“Without hesitation, they said they would prefer to be able to give out samples because they have so many unusual beers,” Davis said.