An expanding Buckhead distillery and a new Sandy Springs brewery opening later this year are looking forward to growth brought on by a new Georgia law signed by Gov. Nathan Deal on May 2.

The new law allows breweries to sell beer or spirits directly to visitors instead of making them purchase a tour and giving them the drinks for free. Visitors can now also buy a case of 24 12-ounce bottles or cans or three 750-milliliter bottles of spirits to take with them.

From left, Pontoon Brewing co-owners Marcus Powers and Sean O’Keefe pose with Chris Irby and Wesley Budd, agents who helped them find the Sandy Springs location for their first brewery. (Special)

Buckhead-based American Spirit Whiskey announced May 10 it will open a second location in a development on the corner of Lee and White Streets in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood, joining two brewers, Monday Night Brewing and Wild Heaven.

Pontoon Brewing will open its first location in Sandy Springs at 8601 Dunwoody Place on Sept. 1, which is also the date the new law will take effect.

Pontoon has been making beer in partnership with breweries in other states for two years, but this will be their first brewery. The recently passed law is already spurring discussion about future expansions among the owners, Sean O’Keefe, one of the four owners, said.

They are also making adjustments to their site plans, enlarging their taproom to make more room for seating in response to the new law. When they began brewing two years ago, O’Keefe said they never imagined Georgia would pass this law, and they were advised by others in the industry to focus on tours.

With the new law in place, they’re anticipating growing more quickly, O’Keefe said, adding jobs and paying more taxes to Sandy Springs, a location they chose because they had a good relationship with the city. Before the law was passed, the owners worked with the city to write Sandy Spring’s ordinance so it could be passed as soon as Deal signed the state legislation.

ASW Distillery, which is located in Armour Yards near Sweetwater Brewing Company, announced its expansion days after Deal signed the legislation.

The distillery was running out of room to store whiskey barrels, as they have to age for six month to two years, Jim Chasteen, one of the founders, said, and they anticipate more sales and visitors after the law takes effect.

ASW plans to use its new location, which will open in nine months to a year, for storage and a tasting room, but it depends on what permits they are able to get from the city, Chasteen said.

The company chose the West End to fulfill its need for more storage space because the owners were convinced by longtime friends at Wild Heaven and Monday Night Brewing to join them in the Lee + White development.

“The craft brewing and distilling industries have become really close with each other in the past couple of years, especially with all the progress that’s been made,” Chasteen said. “We’ve become really good friends with a lot of the breweries in town.”

The tour system was especially difficult for ASW because many guests are from different states due to a wedding venue located adjacent to them, and Chasteen expects tourists would be more likely to come in to buy a bottle than they would to purchase a tour.

Often people who come in to buy a bottle are turned off or confused when they hear they have to buy a tour, he said. “They’ve never heard of this Georgia legislation. All they hear is ‘I can’t buy a bottle’,” Chasteen said.

Tourists also often wanted to buy gifts for others, but they could only buy one bottle, and since they are from a different state, it’s likely ASW would never see that guest again, Chasteen said.

“It’s worth it if you drive here from South Carolina now,” he said. “Before, it was difficult to fully take advantage of tourism business.”
Chasteen said he and others at ASW, along with other breweries, distributors and retailers, have been working for three years on getting legislation through the Georgia General Assembly, and, in the past 18 months, the different parties have worked together to find common ground.

“This has been an intense 18 months of back and forth and compromise between all the parties,” he said. “It certainly took a lot of time, but I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to work with all parties in a good faith way.”