On Oct. 10 and Oct. 24, an undercover agent from the Georgia Department of Revenue visited the Terrapin Beer Company in Athens. The visits resulted in citations for improper signage and improper serving sizes during Terrapin's weekly brewery tours. According to the citation, Terrapin committed "an act which is in violation of law or regulation ... by providing 32 ounces of beer or malt beverage to attendees without conducting a full two hour tour ... "
What is clear is that the undercover agent was served 32 ounces of beer. What is not clear is how the department interprets tour length.
According to the law, tours can be either educational or promotional, and, as the citation states above, must be two hours long in order to serve 32 ounces of free beer. While the lines defining the difference between "educational" and "promotional" are fairly blurry, one might interpret "educational" as strictly the part where tour goers are walked past machinery and "promotional" as, well, just about any other part of the process. In Terrapin's case, it seems the agent decided that the educational portion (about 30 minutes) needed to be two hours long by itself.
Terrapin co-founder John Cochran says the brewery has always considered the two-hour time period (5:30-7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday) where people visit the brewery as a promotional tour. While the actual tour-guide-led portion doesn't last a full two hours, the entire experience (sampling the beers after the educational portion, live music, talking to brewery employees) does.
"Obviously, everything we do there is promoting the brewery to the public," Cochran says. "Truthfully, I believe it is a little bit of a misunderstanding. I think when I talk with the Department and go through the hearing process, this will all get cleared up."
Cochran is uncertain of the department's motivation. To his knowledge, no other Georgia breweries have been inspected, nor has the department ever taken issue with Terrapin's tours in the past. When asked to comment, department spokesperson Nick Genesi said via email: "Terrapin, like any other brewery in Georgia, are subject to inspections to make sure they are following the law."
But one Georgia beer-industry professional claims local restaurants encouraged the department's investigation. The industry insider, who wished to remain anonymous in his comments to CL, says the restaurants are frustrated that beer tours cut into their early evening dinner business, but he also clarifies that it's more of a regulation issue than a restaurant one:
In order for the craft beer scene in Georgia to thrive, regulation needs to be loosened. In most industries, you can't complain to the government because another business is in competition with you. The only reason it's happening is because it involves alcohol in a state with very strict regulations when compared to the rest of the U.S. The potential for craft beer in Georgia is overwhelming, and there is absolutely no reason the government should be holding it back for reasons that are fundamentally un-American.
Cochran doesn't believe restaurants are to blame for Terrapin's recent citations.
"I don't think we've had any issues with restaurants in the Athens area," Cochran says. "Most people, when they leave our tours, they're heading downtown to somewhere else. We're the first stop of a night out for the Athens community. I personally believe we help promote the bar and restaurant scene in Athens."
Cochran is scheduled to meet with the department on Dec. 11. Until then, Terrapin will continue its tours as usual.
"If it's determined that the educational portion of the tour has to be longer, we will, of course, adjust the way we handle tours to reflect that," Cochran says. "What that will do I can't say. But we've always stayed within the rules and regulations, so if it's something we have to do, we'll make the adjustments."
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