The Savannah City Council is turning to beer.
The council was scheduled to vote Aug. 8 to pass an ordinance that will allow Savannah breweries to host educational tours and tastings.
"The ordinance is simply the state law that is already currently in effect," said Carly Wiggins, marketing director for Southbound Brewing Co. "All the other breweries in the state follow this state law. Technically, when you get your state license to brew you are automatically allowed to do tours and tastings - it's a part of that license."
Since Southbound is the only production brewery in Savannah, there were no city ordinances about brewery tours being permissible. Although this permission technically defaults to the state, the Southbound crew, including brewmaster Smith Mathews, decided to present the city with the ordinance last fall to adopt it into city regulations.
"This meeting is for them to determine whether they will allow us to function as every other brewery in every other city in the state of Georgia. There are about 30 brewery tours in Georgia each week. Those tours bring in around 3,800 people to participating breweries each week," Wiggins said.
These educational brewery tours are not only a marketing asset for the brewery, but also help the local economy because people who visit "then go out to local restaurants and bars to request the product they've already sampled here," Wiggins said.
These tours would allow people to see the facility, have a better understanding and appreciation for the process and meet the brewers, who are artists in their own right.
"Many people have the misconception that we will be opening a bar," Mathews said. "The tours are for educational and marketing purposes. We will be giving a tour to everyone in attendance, showing them the brewing process and telling them our story."
Part of the city's requirements for these tours to be considered equated to $30,000 in updates for the facility, more stringent regulations than for some breweries nationwide that are already giving brewery tours. As a startup that's already poured millions into their business, Southbound turned to Indiegogo, a popular crowdfunding platform, to rally backing from the community and other supporters.
"As a startup, we have limited funds available. All of our sales profits are being put right back into the company. Indiegogo is the perfect campaign platform for startup business seeking funding and in return offer great perks. It gives funders the opportunity to help us out and be a part of it, rather than just supporting us through drinking our beer," Mathews said.
"You can already see the community's support by how much we've fundraised. It's a way for everyone to be a part of the brewery and to help out a small business," Wiggins said.
So far, the campaign has raised about $8,500, and the fundraiser ends Aug. 24.
Over the past few years, Savannah has been on deck to become a legitimate beer city thanks to the Savannah Craft Brew Fest, the new Beer Growler store, beer dinners at places like Blue Turtle Bistro and great craft and import beer menus at The Distillery, World of Beer and Jen's and Friends, among others.
However, to tap into the lucrative craft beer market and truly be considered a destination for beer, brewery tours are the next logical step.
"It certainly won't become a beer city if it doesn't allow patrons to visit the breweries. With Coastal Empire getting a facility in Savannah in early 2014 and the new brewery Service Brewing coming as well, that should be a great start. We're also going to need another beer festival or two here.
"The Savannah Craft Beer Festival is excellent, but I feel strongly that one just isn't enough," Wiggins said.
"The ordinances need to support this industry growth and allow tourists to come and visit us," Mathews said. "It's such a cool thing to visit different breweries.
"They're all set up differently and offer endless varieties of beer, some only available at the brewery."
There are several cities Savannah officials can look to as great examples of true beer cities, one being Charleston.
They have eight breweries that allow food trucks to set up and play while you are taking your tours and sampling.
To the south, Jacksonville has carved out a niche as a great beer city, with several breweries and plenty of brewpubs and craft beer-focused bars.
"Those are both coastal cities with a huge tourism industry. Breweries, to me, are the best attraction. I might be somewhat biased," Mathews said.
"Every state really has its own leader," Wiggins said. "In Georgia right now, it's Atlanta. Of course in North Carolina, it's Asheville - they are actually the beer city.
"They have their own original breweries, but also recently, additional facility locations for West Coast breweries have popped up. Oskar Blues, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada now have major breweries operating in that city. This means hundreds of new jobs."
The beer debate ties into the push to buy local, which has become a mantra in recent years as people advocate the need to keep money in the local economy. Plus, craft breweries as a whole are known to be environmentally responsible and to give back to their communities.
"We give all of our spent grain, which is our waste, to the Bethesda Boys Academy. They use the 2,000 pounds weekly for feed for their cattle. That cattle helps support the academy. We give it to them for free because it's good for both of us," Wiggins said.
"One-hundred percent of production breweries give to charity organizations and participate in fundraising events for charities; 47 percent of production breweries report that they regularly volunteer. In Georgia alone, craft breweries report having donated $172,000 to charity organizations in 2012."
The misconception some may have in thinking Southbound Brewing Company will be just another bar is unfounded. State law says that, during a brewery tour, you can only serve up to 32 ounces of beer per person, per day, and are only allowed to be open to the public two hours per day.
"People tend to think of breweries in a poor light if they are not already exposed to them. However, we're different from that common misconception," Mathews said. "We're a craft brewery making a high-end beer, brewed with creative passion. We want to share our craft with others by having them over, giving them a tour and letting them sample our beers.
"It's not a bar; it's an art."
HELP THE BREWERY
If you want to contribute to the brewery's fundraising campaign, go to www.indiegogo.com and search for "Southbound Brewing."