A bill that would allow tasting at distilleries across the state has made its way through the Georgia General Assembly and awaits the governor’s signature.
Proponents of the bill, including master distiller Dwight Bearden, who will oversee operations at Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery, say the measure will drive economic development.
“We think it’s going to be good for us and good for Dawsonville,” Bearden said.
Sponsored by Rep. Rusty Kidd, an independent from Milledgeville, the bill would allow visitors to sample up to a half ounce of spirits per person, per day when touring a distillery. The bill does not allow the distilleries to sell spirits.
Jim Harris has been working for two years to open a distillery in Clayton and said he’s disappointed in the final version.
“The bill was supposed to have included both on-site sales and the tasting room,” Harris said. “That’s like going to a car dealer and test driving a new car and get back to the dealership and say, ‘OK I want it,’ and the dealer has to say, ‘Oh, no you have to go down the street and buy it from somebody else, through a distributor.’”
The bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 34-14 last week and overwhelmingly cleared the House of Representatives in February.
Gov. Nathan Deal has 40 days after the session ends to sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature.
Last year, Cheryl Wood leased an area inside the Dawsonville Municipal Complex, which is also home to the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, to open her distillery. A gift shop with moonshine collectibles is also open at the site.
Gordon Pirkle, Hall of Fame president, said visitors are excited and curious about the distillery.
“They want to see it open, and I think it will bring more people into the museum, too,” he said.
Wood and Bearden are awaiting inspections before opening.
“The inspection will be at their discretion, when they have time to come out,” Bearden said last month. “When we get approval from the state and the federal (authorities) and the fire marshal signs off, we should be ready to go.”
Initially, Bearden said he plans to make a family recipe of corn liquor and in summer months likely will also offer brandy.
Georgia is one of just seven states that prohibits distilled spirits tastings at on- or off-site establishments.
Last year, Tennessee law changed to allow wine and liquor stores to give taste tests.
An amendment to Georgia’s HB 514 stalled last week that would have allowed wine tastings at package stores.
There are currently distilleries operating in Richland, Milledgeville and Americus.
Times Metro Editor Shannon Casas contributed to this report.