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Liquor bill is designed to boost tourism at distilleries
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A bill expected to be introduced in the Georgia General Assembly soon is intended to boost tourism at the state's distilleries.

"Personally, I don't drink alcohol at all, never have," said State Rep. Kevin Tanner, who outlined its scope during his first informational breakfast of the 2014 Legislative Session at Ryan's restaurant in Dawsonville on Saturday.

"But every time we have a meeting with local officials ... one of the top priorities they have addressed with the local delegation has been to try to get the local distillery the ability to sell a small amount of their product for souvenir purposes, so they can increase the tourism at the distillery in Dawsonville."

At issue is current state law that forbids distillers from selling their product on site.

"In Georgia we have a three-tier distribution system that's been in place for many, many years that goes from manufacturer to wholesale to retailer, and I don't see that changing," said Tanner, who authored the new legislation after a similar bill that attempted to cut out the middleman didn't garner the support needed to move forward.

Tanner calls his bill a compromise.

"It would allow distillers to obtain a retail license through the department of revenue and they would be allowed to then buy back some product from the wholesaler that they could sell in the retail side of their establishment," he said.

Dwight Bearden, the backwoods distiller responsible for making the first batches of legal moonshine in Dawsonville at the local distillery, has said the ability to sell bottles of the spirits would be a big boon for the local business.

"Being able to sell it here would for sure be a big help," he told state lawmakers touring the Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery, which was the first in the state to be cleared to offer samples after a tasting bill was passed by the General Assembly in 2012.

However, those who want to take a bottle of the liquor home with them must make the purchase away from the distillery at a retail package store.

Tanner said the bill, which would limit the amount the distilleries could sell to 1.75 liters per day, per customer, appears to have the support it needs to move forward, including Howard Maxwell, R-Dallas, chairman of regulated industries, and Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, chairman of economic development and tourism.

"We're excited to see where this goes as it goes through the process," Tanner said.