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In White County, have a beer in the clear
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Heidi Brown, manager of the Rib Country BBQ in Cleveland, pours a beer at the restaurant. - photo by Tom Reed

It’s been a full year since restaurants have been able to sell beer and wine in unincorporated White County.

While in Helen beer and wine sales have been permitted for years, 2008’s vote was the first chance other locations in the county could serve a frosty beverage or glass of wine with their meals.

While sales of alcohol at some restaurants have been slow, owners in general say they are glad to have the option to sell alcohol.

“I think it’s a beneficial thing for the city and county. And why not? There is no sense in fighting it if it is a benefit,” said Heidi Brown, an employee at Rib Country on U.S. 129 in Cleveland. “If they keep the sales within the (county) it helps with the schools, the roads, whatever they use it for. If they use it to benefit things in the (county) I don’t see a problem with it.”

And the new ordinance has allowed some local restaurants to support area vineyards, too.

For example, the Vines restaurant, located inside Edelweiss German Inn in Sautee, incorporates Georgia wines and beers on its menu.

Rib Country offers Heinken, Fat Tire, Michelob Ultra, Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Light and Yuengling beers along with a few Barefoot wines to complement its barbecue dinners.

“All of our domestic wines are from these four counties up here,” said John Boyes, co-owner of The Vines and Edelweiss German Inn. “We are supporting the North Georgia wine country ... We want to support this area up here. And all of the domestic beers that we are doing are the three Georgia breweries, too — Sweetwater, Terrapin, Atlanta Brewing Company.”

The alcohol sales ordinance passed in November 2008 — after it had been voted down by White County voters several times — and went into effect Jan. 1, 2009. There are 22 alcohol beverage licenses in White County and most of those are convenience stores, according to the White County Building Inspections Department, which administers the licenses.

Ringo McCollum, the department’s chief building official, said there are different kinds of licenses depending on the restaurant’s needs.  A license for a farm winery is $1,500, $750 more for a tasting room, and a restaurant license is $1,200, he said.

Both Gainesville and Hall County charge $700 for a beer and a wine license, for a total of $1,400. The license must be renewed each year.

But McCollum said he hasn’t really heard how the new alcohol and beverage license holders are faring. “I don’t get that kind of feedback here at my office, so I wouldn’t know,” he said.

Rib Country, the only restaurant with a Cleveland address that serves beer and wine, received their alcohol beverage license in May 2009 and has seen some benefit since offering a selection of beer and wine.

“It was kind of slow at first, but it’s starting to pick up right now,” Brown said. “The way that the sales have started to increase, they are getting used to it; all the convenience stores have been booming.”

Patrons who are against alcohol sales are more likely to avoid the establishment, though, she added.

“People that have always voted against the wine and beer sales, they kind of shy away from actually drinking in the building,” she said.

Boyes added that the passing of the alcohol beverage ordinance has been great for his business. He considered just opening a winery before the law passed.

“It’s been a tremendous help and with business being a little bit slower because of the economy, that’s raised our average ticket price a bit,” he said. “In December 2007 I had decided that, one way or another, we were serving wine. So I started prepping a field in the front of our entrance for a vineyard. I got the vines in April ’08, planted them in the ground, and then we found out in June that they were going to put it on the ballot ... so we put all that on hold.”

The Vines was the proud holder of an alcohol beverage license on June 15, 2009.

The restaurant offers wine and beer with dinner, but it also has a package store on the premises so patrons can buy what they enjoyed with dinner.

Mossy Creek Smokehouse Grill in Cleveland doesn’t have their license yet, but owner Sherri Sinopoli said she hopes to have one soon.

In the meantime, she added, customers are welcome to bring in their own beer or wine.

“You can brown bag until we get our license,” Sinopoli said. “We have people that say they want it and just as many that say they don’t want it, so you don’t want to upset anybody.

“But it would definitely help our bottom line.”

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