Georgia brewers say they’d have more success…in North Carolina

Writer’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series on Georgia’s craft brewing industry and the state laws that regulate it. Click here to read Part One.

Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, owns a microbrewery in his home district, and faces problems unique to the industry and to the state.

In 2022, Carpenter said potential customers bypassed his establishment to sample the breweries in Asheville, North Carolina…which, by automobile, is three hours away. 

The Tar Heel State’s craft brewing laws “are 3,000 times better than the laws in Georgia.”

“They [the customers] come back and say ‘Damn, I wish Georgia was more like Asheville,’” said Carpenter at the time, dejected.

Carpenter’s example is not isolated.

This year, Georgia Craft Brewers Guild Executive Director Joseph Cortes said he knows of one Georgia brewer who expanded his business into North Carolina. That brewer, Cortes said, “is doing much better there because of the freedom that they have to get their product out and serve their customers.”

Let’s take this conversation directly to the brewers of North Carolina. 

Does Les Stewart, who owns a brewery and serves as vice president of that state’s Craft Brewers Guild, realize just how much he’s envied?

“Yes, I have heard it at length,” Stewart said.

“And, yes, they [the Georgia brewers] have a legitimate complaint.”


Talk about irony. 

In 1908, North Carolina enforced prohibition laws a dozen years before the federal government did. 

“Prior to two acts in the early 1900s that introduced Prohibition to North Carolina, well before federal Prohibition, we had more distilleries than anywhere else,” said Jon Sanders of the John Locke Foundation, a nonprofit based out of Raleigh. 

“We had a winery business, possibly one of the nation’s largest, but those were absolutely put out of business as soon as we passed Prohibition,” Sanders said.

“We could have been Kentucky from the distillery side of things, except we voluntarily killed off those industries.”

Sanders said many people throughout North Carolina at the time had “irrational fears about the industry that didn’t quite line up with reality.”

But, as far as state and federal Prohibition laws were concerned, not all North Carolinians complied, said Stewart.

“Quite famously, we were running NASCARs through the hills in our state during Prohibition,” Stewart said, referring to bootlegging. 

Are breweries a big part of North Carolina’s culture?

“If so, it is a relatively contemporary cultural development in North Carolina,” Stewart said, referring to what he called the state’s now fairly liberal approach to alcohol. 

But how did North Carolina get to this point, especially when other states have not?


“We are an agricultural state,” said North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild Executive Director Lisa Parker 

“We have been a tobacco state, but tobacco is disappearing from the landscape. We have had a lot of towns economically impacted from the decrease in tobacco farming. These rural towns across North Carolina have found craft beer as a way to bring jobs and consumers and tourism back to their towns for an economic lift.”

Until 2005, Stewart said North Carolina brewers could only sell beer that had less than 6% alcohol. State legislators passed what they called the Pop the Cap bill that raised that number to 15%.

“That [legislation] blew the doors wide open on interest in our market. There were breweries and distributors that were just not interested in our market [before] because they couldn’t sell their whole portfolio because of that limitation,” Stewart said.

“That really opened it up and ended up being the impetus, among other things, for the craft beer wave in North Carolina as it hit.”

So much so that during the previous decade Stewart said “there wasn’t a lot of political will to oppose the craft beer movement.”

Until five years ago, North Carolina disallowed breweries from producing more than 25,000 barrels of beer without contracting with a distributor, Sanders said. 

“In so doing, it made it where a growing brewery had to either just limit itself and stay artificially small or have to turn all of its distribution over to a third-party wholesaler,” Sanders said. 

“Even then, they wouldn’t have a guarantee that the wholesaler had their best interests in mind because they could very well be serving other brands as well, bigger brands.”

Sanders said several brewery owners throughout North Carolina worked to change things despite pushback from the state’s powerful beer and wine wholesalers’ lobby. 

The result?

In 2019, North Carolina passed a law that allows breweries to sell, deliver and ship up to 50,000 barrels of beer per year. 

Georgia, meanwhile, restricts craft brewers to sell 3,000 barrels per year. 


Georgia has slightly more than 11 million residents and, according to Georgia Craft Brewers Guild Executive Director Joseph Cortes, about 170 breweries.

North Carolina has slightly fewer residents, 10.8 million, but, according to Parker, has more than twice as many breweries, around 420.

“Why does North Carolina have far more breweries than Georgia?” Parker asked. 

“I think that is due to the public policy situation and the climate around beer regulation in Georgia.” 

Georgia’s craft brewers say that their state’s more restrictive laws deliver fewer tourists, fewer jobs and fewer economic development opportunities than the state would otherwise have.

“I think some of the biggest differences impacting that policy and impacting the business climate for craft beer in Georgia is the fact that Georgia does not allow for any self-distribution for small brewers, whereas North Carolina does,” Parker said. 

“Honestly, the barrelage isn’t going to matter as much as just the ability for small brewers. Most of the time, 70% of North Carolina breweries produce 1,000 barrels or less, but those breweries have the capacity to self-distribute to grocery stores and taprooms, bottle shops and the like. That makes a huge difference to build brand recognition and also provide additional revenue streams from the retail segment or tier if you are looking at the three-tier system.”

Under the three-tiered system, production facilities, like breweries and wineries and distilleries, fill one tier. The next tier is a wholesaler distributor. The third tier is the retailer.

At the Georgia General Assembly this year, a bill that would have modernized, perhaps even overhauled, some of these bygone laws didn’t go far. SB 163, also known as the Fair and Open Access to Market (F.O.A.M.) Act, did not make it to the Senate floor. In fact, it did not even make its way out of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.

The bill, if enacted into law, would have provided brewers the right to self-distribute 3,000 barrels of their product or products, “pretty much locally, which is what the need is,” said Cortes.

Another part of the bill would have raised the daily to-go or off-premise limit, which, per person, is currently 288 ounces, or equivalent to one six-pack case of 12-ounce beers. 

Wholesalers in Georgia adamantly opposed SB 163.

Georgia Beer Wholesalers Executive Director Martin Smith was asked if he believes Georgia brewers lose business to North Carolina.

“Since North Carolina has made some of its changes, the closure rate in that state versus Georgia is two to one the last several years,” Smith said.

“The survival rate is much better here [in Georgia]. We have a better system for that.”


The Brewers Association, a national craft brewing trade group, reported that craft breweries nationwide contributed $72.2 billion to the U.S. economy in 2022 and provided nearly 460,000 jobs. 

As far as North Carolina is concerned, Southern Living, in 2023, reported that Asheville has more breweries, per capita, than any other city in the United States. 

Why is Asheville’s craft brewing so popular? 

The city attracts many bachelor and bachelorette parties and weekend friend reunions. 

“In Asheville, you get this range of wonderful, boundary-pushing breweries,” said Stewart.

“People know about that place…and they go.”

The Asheville-based Citizen Times reported in 2021 that the city’s brewing industry had a $1 billion economic impact.

Parker said that Charlotte has more breweries, but Asheville, population-wise, is denser.

“That makes it ideal for craft beer tourism,” Parker said.

Smith said Georgia brewers are in a good position to compete for business with Asheville, but he did not elaborate.

According to a flier from the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild, that state’s beer industry has an annual economic impact of $2.8 billion and supports more than 18,000 jobs throughout that state.

Georgia’s craft brewing industry had a $1.9 billion economic impact in 2022 and created more than 11,000 jobs, at an average yearly wage of nearly $48,000.

If Georgia’s craft brewing regulations were to change then would North Carolina brewers mind more competition?

Stewart says no.

“The fact is we, so far, have always benefited from having more breweries and introducing people to more flavors and expanding what people see with what craft beer has,” Stewart said. 

“Craft brewing has always been a big tent industry. The more the merrier.”

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