The BMA was a very straightforward, business-friendly bill that did not seek to increase the strength of any kind of alcohol or expand the availability of alcohol. It was simply intended to remove some restrictions that make it needlessly difficult to open and make a profit running a brewery or brewpub in Alabama.
If the BMA had passed, you would have been able to enjoy drinking a beer in a taproom at such Alabama breweries as Good People and Olde Towne. And brewpubs like Montgomery Brewing Company would have been able to sell their beer via wholesalers to retail outlets, including your local grocery store.
Even more important, obstacles to opening brewpubs and breweries would have been greatly reduced, leading to the opening of new small businesses. That would mean more jobs and a greater portion of Alabama’s beer dollars staying in this state—all good for our economy.
But the state legislature didn’t prioritize this easy, economy-boosting bill that wouldn’t have cost taxpayers a dime. They instead chose to once again waste inordinate amounts of their time on arguments about bingo, among other things, so the state’s brewing industry is forced to languish under arcane restrictions for another year. Free The Hops will introduce the BMA again next year, and possibly one or two other bills as well.
The other bit of bad beer-related news from this year’s session is that efforts to legalize home brewing in Alabama were once again unsuccessful. Brewing your own beer at home is legal at the national level and legal under state law in all but a couple of states. Of course, Alabama is one of the last states to prohibit it.
Lots of folks in Alabama brew at home anyway, and examples of the law being enforced are few and far between. But it’s not fair to make people engaging in this harmless hobby into “law breakers.” Alabama home brewers would also like to host competitions where trained judges evaluate entries and provide constructive feedback to brewers. Public competitions are unthinkable until the hobby is officially legalized. Expect the group that pushed the home brewing bill to introduce it again next year and keep fighting for it until it passes.
The lone bit of good news for beer to come out of this session is fairly significant and has attracted much attention. The beer wholesalers association succeeded in amending a bill dealing with fortified wine, adding a clause to repeal what Free The Hops supporters should remember as “the Brooks amendment” to last year’s Gourmet Beer Bill.
At the last minute, Senator Brooks proposed an amendment to last year’s Free The Hops bill. It restricted the sale of beer with more than 6 percent alcohol to bars, restaurants, package stores and retailers with “tasting” licenses. This meant that only grocery stores with a special license to conduct beer tastings on site could sell high gravity beer, and convenience stores were cut out completely. That has severely limited the availability of the new beers that were legalized by last year’s bill.
Thanks to the amendment to this year’s wine bill, that restriction has been repealed. Starting July 1, any store with a license to sell beer will be able to sell ANY beer approved for sale in Alabama. The last vestiges of the 6 percent ABV limit have been vanquished.
While most c-stores and national chain grocery stores won’t bring in a large variety of craft beer, you will see a few of them adding new items to their selections. If you normally do your grocery shopping at such stores as Publix and Winn-Dixie, you’ll at least have the option of picking up a double IPA or perhaps a Belgian triple while you’re buying your milk and eggs.
That’s how it should have been all along, so Alabama’s beer lovers have reason to celebrate. This will put new beers in front of people who wouldn’t have seen them otherwise, and that will be a boost to craft beer culture in our state.
“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