One section in particular is immensely fascinating to me: Title 28. That’s the section of the code that deals with the regulation of alcohol. Setting aside for a moment all the general absurdities of alcohol regulation in the Bible Belt, consider the effects of sections 28-7-18 and 28-4A-3.
The first allows wine makers to sell wine directly to consumers on the premises of the winery, period, without restriction (except for all the taxes, of course!). The second allows a special class of brewery (called brewpubs) to sell beer directly to consumers only if the beer is consumed on-premises. This special class of brewery has to be located in an historic building, and it must be in a county in which beer was brewed prior to Prohibition, and it must also operate a restaurant with no fewer than 80 seats. And brewpubs cannot package their beer and sell it at retail, like wineries can.
Then there’s another class of brewery that doesn’t have to abide by all these outrageous restrictions (Good People fits into this class), but those breweries can’t sell any beer directly to consumers. None. Every drop of beer they produce must be sold to wholesalers, who sell it to retailers, who sell it to consumers. Perhaps you’ve caught my drift by now, which is that Alabama law discriminates against local breweries, but not against local wineries. The word I’m looking for here is “injustice.”
Now consider this: the state of Alabama has a population of 4.66 million people. We have two brewpubs. The state of Washington has a population of 6.55 million people. They can enjoy a beer at any of 61 brewpubs. Sixty-one! I’ll do the math for you — that’s one brewpub for every 107,000 people in the state of Washington, and one brewpub for every 2.33 million people in the state of Alabama. You can see the chilling effect our laws have had on brewpub proliferation in this state, just as you can see our population is sufficient to support many more brewpubs than we now have.
So, fresh off our victory in reforming the ABV limit on beer in Alabama, we in Free the Hops are now setting our sights on addressing this injustice of discrimination against an entire class of businesses under state law. We are going to introduce a bill in 2010 designed to reform some of these restrictions that are placed on breweries but not wineries.
“Wait a minute,” you might be saying, “I thought Free The Hops was going to work on the 16 ounce container limit next.” Indeed, we are committed to eventually lifting the container limit, which is yet another asinine restriction on beer not inflicted upon wine or spirits. And I can tell you no one in this state wants to see that restriction gone more than I do.
Next door in Georgia, Terrapin’s impressive Side Project series of one-off releases is only packaged in 22 ounce bottles, as is Sweetwater’s Dank Tank series. Great Divide has a long list of special releases only available in 22 ounce bottles. Most of Stone Brewing’s portfolio is only bottled in 22 ounce packages. Dogfish Head has a huge number of beers in 750 milliliter bottles. Tons of imports are only available in bottles larger than 16 ounce. I could go on and on.
I love these beers and want easy access to all of them. When we started the process to determine our agenda for next year, that was my top priority and I explored every option for accomplishing it in 2010.
Unfortunately, next year is an election year. Campaigning legislators seeking reelection want uncontroversial bills they can tout to their constituents. The very last thing they want is a fresh vote on their record that opponents can use to paint them as “soft on drunk driving.” Of course, no other state in the country has a limit on the container size of beer, and many of them have lower rates of drunk driving than Alabama. Just as our ABV limit didn’t have any impact on our rates of drunk driving, the data clearly prove there is no correlation between our container limit and the rate of drunk driving.
But we all know facts never get in the way of a good campaign smear, so we have decided we can’t touch the container issue in 2010. While no one is ever guaranteed success when pushing a bill in the Alabama legislature, some bills have much worse odds than others.
The more I’ve thought about it, the more confident I’ve become that an effort to help local Alabama breweries is the right thing to do. While the ABV change has benefited local breweries, the dominant effect of that bill becoming law has been a massive influx of new beers from out of state. Raising the container limit would exclusively benefit out of state breweries (at least for a while), as all Alabama brewers are either not bottling at all (brewpubs) or bottling under restrictions in current state law.
In contrast, a bill to reform restrictions on Alabama breweries will solely benefit... Alabama breweries. These are small businesses owned and operated by fellow Alabamians. Every dollar spent on their beer has a bigger impact on the local economy than money spent on beer from other states and countries. Providing a legal boost to our state’s brewers will help to grow and expand our local brewing industry, which is better for beer culture here. And since these restrictions make it difficult to open new breweries, by reforming them we will pave the way for more Alabamians to take the plunge and open brewing businesses.
And that, we hope, is something legislators will be happy to support. We’re giving them a chance to give Free The Hops supporters something we want — more local beer — while helping Alabama small businesses and eventually, the state’s tourism industry, all without expanding the availability or potency of beer.
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and co-organizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to email@example.com.