Customers, either the cognoscenti or the simply curious, soon can sample alcoholic beverages - so long as the sample comes from a keg - before making a purchase at retail outlets in Fort Oglethorpe.
The City Council last week adopted by unanimous, though abbreviated, vote several changes to regulations regarding alcoholic beverages for off-site consumption, including one that permits trying before buying.
City Manager Ron Goulart said the majority of changes to the ordinance were designed to streamline the application and renewal process. Among minor changes were requiring only the applicant's personal information, and not that of their spouse and dependents, be listed on a license application, and making renewal of a license allowed if there are no objections from the police chief.
The biggest change involves modifying a provision that restricts the sale of alcoholic beverages for drinking on-site to an establishment that derives at least 80 percent of its business from food sales.
That restriction allowed drinking in restaurants, but not in bars where the sales of food are incidental.
The new ordinance allows an exception for retail outlets that sell draft beer in sealed containers for off-site consumption.
In addition to a license that allows selling wine or brewed beverages, any business that wants to offer samples must have a separate $200 license. Both licenses must be renewed annually.
At the present time Beverage World, at the intersection of Cloud Springs and LaFayette roads, is the only such outlet in the city.
Patrons purchase empty bottles, ranging from 31-64 ounces each, that are filled from a 20-tap growler station of fresh draft beers, according to owner Mitul Patel, who is currently in India and has not yet applied for a sampling license.
Goulart said the samples will be no larger than 1 ounce and that individuals are limited to purchasing three samples in any 24-hour period.
"At this rate it would take four days for an individual to consume the equivalent of one 12-ounce bottle of beer," he said.
Because both Mayor Lynn Long and Mayor Pro Tem Louis Hamm were absent due to illness, council member Johnnie "Red" Smith was selected to preside over last Monday's meeting.
Smith was not overly pleased. He said he felt that because his opposition to the use and sale of alcoholic beverages is well documented, he had been "set up" by council members Charles Sharrock, Earl Gray and Eddie Stinnett. That is because the person presiding over a council meeting is not allowed to vote.
The three councilmen said they chose Smith because of his seniority and that if anyone had "set him up" it was the two who were absent.
Sam Kubilus, assistant manager at Beverage World, said customers travel from as far away as Knoxville, Nashville, Birmingham, Atlanta and points in between to buy from the store's broad selection of imported and domestic craft and mainstream brews.
The addition of the growler station has provided a big increase in both interest and sales that allow a fresh-from-the-keg experience at home. When contemplating the purchase of a bottle that can cost nearly $25, the availability of samples - sold for a nominal fee - could increase the store's sales, which in turn would increase the city's sales tax revenue.
Before calling for a vote, Smith asked how taxes would be collected on sales and how the no-more-than-three-samples-per-person-per-day clause would be monitored.
Goulart answered that tax collections will be no different than for any other retail sale and that anyone requesting a sample must prove they are of legal drinking age, just as they would for purchase of any alcoholic beverage.
Kubilus said details of keeping track of how many samples an individuals has been served are still being worked out.
He added the store has no intention of becoming a saloon and that it is unlikely anyone just wanting a beer would buy three 1-ounce samples when the same amount of money could very nearly buy a cheap six-pack.
Without other discussion the measure was approved by a 3-0 margin.
"We're very excited," Kubilus said after the council adopted the amended ordinance.