First Draft with Nancy Palmer
Talking bottleshops, on-premise sales for off-premise consumption, and how breweries benefit their local communities with Georgia Craft Brewers Guild Executive Director Nancy Palmer
Before Nancy Palmer was working to make Peach State beer laws better as executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, she learned how ales and lagers could make people behave in otherwise unreasonable ways. "The first time I really understood why someone would drive a million miles to get beer from outside of Georgia was when I had 3 Floyds' Zombie Dust," she remembers. "When I had that, my mind exploded. I would drive halfway across the country to have that again."
Palmer has worked for the Guild since 2012, and she stepped into her full-time executive director position in July. "I felt very comfortable with the Guild and its leadership," she says. "But also, it was a job that no one had had before. It was 'get things done,' but no particular direction."
She went from wondering what she was going to do when she woke up each morning to diving headfirst into regulatory issues, the Guild's legislative agenda, facilitating events and fundraising, and addressing the needs of the Guild's 34 brewery and brewpub members. Creative Loafing chatted with the 31-year-old University of Georgia grad at Wrecking Bar Brewpub to talk about bottleshops, on-premise sales for off-premise consumption, and how breweries benefit their local communities.
Describe your first beer.
I'm pretty sure my first beer was Natural Ice in high school in Destin, Fla., for spring break. I don't know that I remember it exactly, but it was definitely the first time I tried beer. Natural Ice is terrible, but you power through your first one and, all of a sudden, you're a grown-up. My first job in beer was working for Athens, Ga.'s Five Points Bottle Shop in college in 2003 or 2004. Sachin Patel, owner turned me on to a whole world of beer, and one of the first craft beers I had that really changed my mind was Sam Smith's Oatmeal Stout.
You passed the sommelier exam at 24. How did you transition from wine to beer?
I was exposed to beer culture at Five Points, but I was very much in the wine industry. I started working for the Guild in 2012. They needed someone to help them do fundraising, and at the time, I was working on the wine list at Trappeze Pub. Eric Johnson, who owned Trappeze and now owns Wild Heaven, was on the board of directors at the Guild and recommended me. They needed someone who could work five hours some weeks and 30 hours other weeks, stuff like that. I was consulting for multiple restaurants at the time, so my schedule was pretty flexible. And as the Guild grew and raised money, they were able to hire an executive director. I put my hat in the ring and got the job.
What is the Guild's main focus this year?
This year, as a primary thing, we're looking for off-premise sales for breweries and off-premise sales for brewpubs. The membership has spoken pretty clearly, that those are the two things they're most interested in, and we're in talks with a lobbying firm to help us get that done. We're very excited about it, and that's a huge part of my focus.
What do you say to the passionate Georgia beer consumer who's frustrated?
Ultimately, my job and the Guild's job is to represent the 34 businesses that are members of the Guild. That has to be our primary responsibility. Those are the people we answer to, whose money we take a lot of. We've been advised, over and over again, that to engage in a grassroots campaign, it needs to be specific, it needs to have a cohesive message, and it needs to be used at the precisely correct time. So, we've launched a website, GABeerJobs.com, with a petition. We'll be using that site, and our enthusiast member list, and we'll be sending information about our legislative agenda and requests for help at certain moments. Moving forward, we'll have more direct communication about what we need. The difficult part is that the legislative session is only 40 days, starting in January. So it's "hurry up and wait" right now. At the right moment, we'll release the hounds.
Aside from legal stuff, what would you like to see change in Georgia beer culture?
I'd like to see an appreciation and understanding of the craft beer industry on a larger scale. As brewers and people in this industry, we can get a little myopic. We're kinda in our bubble, where our issues are clearly understood. But for the vast, vast majority of people, there's no understanding of that. I would love to see everyone, whether or not they love craft beer, at least know what a craft brewery is and what it does for their communities. Whether or not they drink it, it's about understanding how positive these businesses can be for their communities. I've never come across businesses that spend so much time doing philanthropy, helping out nonprofits, and engaging in their communities the way breweries do.