The issue facing the city is what types of restrictions to place on the growing industry and whether breweries should be allowed to operate on or near the Marietta Square.
Commissioner Cheryl Richardson and Chairman Bob Kinney were treated to a personal tour of Red Hare Brewing Co. by co-owner Roger Davis, as buckets of foam and small pools of beer exited clear plastic tubes.
At their July 2 meeting, Richardson, who is an attorney in Marietta, said a city-wide zoning change to allow breweries, distilleries and wineries in commercial areas would be a nuisance to residential neighborhoods.
“This isn’t appropriate next to a neighborhood,” Richardson said after the tour.
The commission has included a 15,000-square-foot minimum for any space housing a brewery, distillery or winery, but Richardson said the next round might include more restrictions.
Davis said a microbrewery, to be profitable, would need a larger building than is typically found on the Marietta Square. By industry standards, a microbrewery can produce up to 15,000 barrels of beer a year.
Red Hare produces 5,000 barrels of beer a year in its 11,000-square-foot building, and Davis said he is looking to expand or move to a new site that has 15,000 square feet of space.
Davis said whether or not a brewery can or should operate right on the Square, the zoning change would allow more opportunities to find the best location city-wide.
A fine-tuned recommendation should be decided on at the next Planning Commission meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. at City Hall, Richardson said.
Richardson said she now understands the brewing process and business, which means she can better explain her stance to the other commission members.
The commissioners watched the entire process at Red Hare, from where an outside silo that holds 50,000 pounds of grain funnels into a grist mill to the packaging line with pallets of beer cans stacked 10 feet high.
From start to finish it takes 14 days to produce a batch of ale and 21 days for lager, Davis said.
The commission on July 2 expressed concern over odor and other disturbances from this type of production facility.
The biggest stockpile of waste at Red Hare comes from processing the grain. The used mash is stored outside and picked up by a local pig farmer.
The smell has not been a problem, even on hot days, because of Red Hare’s industrial location. Other than that area, the odor is 99 percent captured in the building, and any steam that leaves the building is mostly water vapor, Davis said.
“If you don’t mind smelling beer it is not offensive,” Davis said.
He did warn the commissioners that whiskey distilleries produce a more intense odor from boiling barley to yield the sugar needed for distilling liquor. The sour mash in the fermentation process produces a ripe, foul smell.
Another concern raised by Davis is that Red Hare served 12,000 gallons of beer during special events and tastings last year, and that is projected to reach 18,000 this year. He said he didn’t see how a brewery operating on the Square would be able to accommodate similar events especially where parking is concerned. In two-hour blocks, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Red Hare has more than 300 guests.
The best option might be allowing only brew pubs downtown, which Davis said would be one-tenth the brewing capacity, and include a bar area with a restaurant.
To be licensed as a brew pub by federal and state guidelines, 50 percent of sales must come from retail sales on the premises. Distributing more than 5,000 barrels a year would come with a tax increase.
The mug runneth over
Georgia has lagged behind other states that have changed their laws to become more inviting for local breweries, which often become tourist destinations. Davis said the craft beer industry is growing in sales and offering new selections at a rapid pace.
Red Hare opened in the summer of 2011 and moved to 1998 Delk Industrial Boulevard near Franklin Road two years ago.
Davis said it started as a hobby on Saturdays in his basement and has expanded to 10 full-time employees that help to produce three year-round beers, two seasonals and two reserve labels.
Wednesday, the commissioners spent the tour discussing proper temperatures and the 1,200 to 2,500 gallon tanks. They even tried to get some of the secret ingredients to the recipes, which start with a custom yeast that has been tweaked specifically for Red Hare.