In 2009, when Free the Hops miraculously managed to get the Gourmet Beer Bill (increasing the allowable ABV of beer in Alabama from 6% to 13.9%) passed, some speculated that the wasteland that was the Alabama brewing industry would finally start catching up to the rest of the civilized world. With numbers just in from the Alabama Brewer’s Guild*, I think we can safely say that those dreams have indeed come true.
*Let’s be honest…just the fact that we even HAVE an Alabama Brewer’s Guild shows how far we’ve come.
Since the Gourmet Beer Bill passed, the Alabama brewing industry has seen triple-digit growth every year…making the state one of the most remarkable stories in the recent American craft beer boom. Taxes paid on beer production are up 118% from last year. Employment at breweries and brewpubs is up 204% (!) from 2012 (and that number only includes brewpub employees actually involved in beer production…not restaurant staff).
While the numbers are modest compared to states like California, Oregon and Colorado, they’re still extraordinarily encouraging. And any lawmakers who had doubts about modernizing beer legislation (hello Alvin Holmes and John Rogers!) must be kicking themselves now. Breweries are bringing jobs, tax money, and growth to the state in an otherwise stagnant economy. In fact, as the Alabama Brewer’s Guild notes, 10 of the 12 in-state breweries/brewpubs operating today didn’t even EXIST until the 2009 law was passed! Since then, the state has also passed the Brewery Modernization Act (allowing breweries to serve beer in on-site taprooms) and the Gourmet Bottle Bill (allowing the sale of 22-ounce and 750-ml containers). These laws have allowed our local breweries to compete in the increasingly crowded American craft beer marketplace.
Here in Birmingham, the craft beer revolution has been nothing short of amazing. The Good People Brewing Company has served as an anchor in a formerly dead part of downtown which in a few short months will boast the city’s finest public park AND a minor league baseball field. And while it may be overstating things to say that Good People was responsible for that development, having a successful, thriving brewery nearby couldn’t have hurt during the sales pitch for both of those projects.
Then there’s Avondale Brewing which has all but sparked a renaissance in the Avondale neighborhood of Birmingham. While the area still has some work to do, it’s absolutely thriving compared to how it was before Coby Lake and Craig Shaw opened their little ale factory on 41st Street South. And don’t forget newcomers Cahaba Brewing and Beer Engineers which are helping drive economic development in the heart of downtown. When I moved to Birmingham a few short years ago, I couldn’t even GET a locally-produced beer. And now? Hey, it may not be Portland, Oregon…but I’ve got options, dammit! I’d call that a win.
As for this year, we’re all hoping the state will finally legalize homebrewing*. The bill just passed the necessary House and Senate committees which means it will now be put up for a vote. Last year, it was held up in the House but there seems to be a true groundswell of support (including some fiery op-ed pieces in local papers) that should get it passed in 2013. It will be nice to not be considered a felon when I’m brewing up a batch of Oatmeal Stout with my fellow tax-paying Alabamans.
*Alabama and Mississippi are currently the only two states that don’t allow homebrewing…funny how those two are always #49 and #50 no matter what metric you’re using.
There’s no reason to believe that the Alabama brewing industry won’t continue its meteoric rise this year. The Brewer’s Guild is conservatively estimating 102% growth in beer production and 122% growth in beer industry employment this year. As Jason Wilson of the Back Forty Beer Company in Gadsden notes, the biggest problem isn’t growth…it’s “growing to meet demand.”
Let that be a lesson to any legislators out there looking to create jobs and tax revenue in a difficult economy. If you brew it, they will drink.
Thanks to Dan Roberts of the Alabama Brewer’s Guild for the above infographic and for the data contained in this post.