Dear Alabama State Senators and Representatives,
Hey! How are you? Awesome! You’re looking sharp. Love the new tie…
Listen…I’ve poked fun at you a few times in the past. Admittedly, there are some members of your august group that I find somewhat lacking in the intelligence/competence/moral fiber arenas. But deep down I know that most of you honestly do want what’s best for your state. This is your home. This is where your kids and grandkids live. Alabama’s prosperity is important to you and I know that, more often than not, you’re trying to make decisions that help your fellow citizens.
I know you’ve got some big fish to fry this year. The budget will be a mess as usual. Your largest metropolitan area is in the midst of the biggest civic bankruptcy in history. You’ve got this whole, pesky Immigration Bill giving the state another one of its seemingly endless series of racially-motivated black eyes. Plus, you’ve got to debate bills that are vitally important to our economic future like SB202 which deals with abortion coverage in health insurance. And SB301 which attempts to define personhood as beginning at fertilization. There might even be some non-abortion related bills to debate.
Anyways, I’m not here to talk about contentious budget concerns or to debate some hot-button issue at length. I’m just here for the beer. And that means I’m here to discuss the Gourmet Bottle Bill.
Way back in 2009, Alabama was lagging behind essentially every other state in the nation when it came to craft beer. Thanks to Free the Hops, the grassroots organization founded to promote craft beer in the state, the landscape has changed incredibly. In the Spring of 2009, the Gourmet Beer Bill was passed which raised Alabama’s impossibly restrictive 6% ABV cap on beer to 13.9%. Two years later, the Brewery Modernization Act was passed which greatly reduced restrictions on breweries and brewpubs (and even allowed breweries to have Tasting Rooms like Alabama wineries…imagine that!). In just a few short years, the craft beer scene has exploded in the Yellowhammer State. When I moved to Alabama, there was just one brewery operating in the state. This year, there are a dozen either operating or in the planning stages (with even more to come). Restaurants, bars, and package stores have embraced craft beer and have done a brisk business selling high-quality suds to the appreciative masses. Tax revenue has increased. Consumer dollars have been spent. New businesses and jobs have been created. One of the many, many reasons to be embarrassed by Alabama was taken off the checklist.
More importantly, NOTHING negative happened. All of your concerns about the streets being littered with the bodies of dead teenagers were unfounded. In fact, in the first year that high-gravity beer was legalized in Alabama, drunk driving incidents actually DROPPED (I’m not saying there’s any cause and effect there…just pointing out the “obvious-to-anyone-who-possesses-reason” fact that access to craft beer does not equal an increase in drunk driving). It’s almost as if craft beer proponents’ claims that promoting the growth of the industry would be a win-win for the state were, in fact, correct!
So here we stand in 2012 with craft beer booming in Alabama and the state reaping the rewards both in tax dollars, job growth, and consumer happiness. And yet…there’s still a problem. A big one. You see, most craft brewers showcase their “best” work in what we call “large-format bottles”. When you walk into a bottle shop and see a 22-ounce bottle (or bomber) or a 750-ml bottle (or…umm…750…we’re still working on a cool name for that one), you’re looking at a rare beer, or a seasonal beer, or a one-off, or something experimental. Something to be savored like wine or shared with friends.*
*Large format bottles are also more cost-effective for the brewery to use since there’s less packaging material per ounce of beer.
Except…when you walk into a bottle shop in Alabama, you won’t see those specialty bottles. Because Alabama is the ONLY state in the nation that restricts beer to 16-ounce vessels or smaller. That bears repeating…we’re the ONLY state in the nation that won’t allow you to buy a beer bigger than 16 ounces! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…when even Mississippi thinks something is overly restrictive, you KNOW it’s a law that needs a-changin’. This law hurts local breweries since they can’t showcase rarities and one-offs in large-format bottles like the rest of the industry. And it hurts retailers since they can’t carry these specialty bottles which often carry higher profit margins. And it hurts consumers since A) They can’t buy some of the best beers brewed by their favorite ale factories and B) Some breweries (like the Bruery out of Orange County, CA) ONLY bottle their beer in large-format vessels…which means unless the law changes, you’ll never be able to legally buy their beer here. Even stranger, you CAN buy a growler in Alabama. In other words, you can walk into a package story and walk out with a plastic, one-gallon milk-jug of beer. But you can’t buy a 22-ounce bottle of the EXACT SAME BEER.
Last year, Free the Hops drafted the Gourmet Bottle Bill which attempted to increase the bottle-size restriction from 16 ounces to 25.4 ounces (eg: the size of a 750). However, since Free the Hops was primarily focused on the Brewery Modernization Act in 2011, the Bottle Bill mostly fell by the wayside and never came up for a vote. This year, Free the Hops is ONLY championing the Gourmet Bottle Bill. It’s really the last big hurdle to making Alabama roughly on par with most other states in terms of the craft beer industry. Yes, we still have a very restrictive three-tier system. Yes, you still can’t buy beer directly at a brewery. And yes, we still have some of the most insane beer taxes in the nation (only Alaska is worse). But those are all bigger battles with more entrenched opposition. The Gourmet Bottle Bill is a fight we can win THIS year. And it’s a fight that every citizen who is passionate about consumer freedom should care about even if you don’t particularly care about craft beer.
As in past years, Free the Hops is proposing two bills…Senate Bill 294 will start in the Senate and makes its way to the House and House Bill 264 will do the reverse. They both say the exact same thing…it’s just a way to cover all of the bases in case one House gets bogged down with an abortion or gay marriage debate and doesn’t have time to discuss the Gourmet Bottle Bill. Monitor the blog at Free the Hops to see where things stand with the bill in real time.
If you’re an Alabama citizen, call and/or e-mail your State Senators and Representatives to demand that they give you the same bottle-buying freedom enjoyed by consumers in every other state. And if you’re an Alabama State Congressman or Congresswoman, please, please, PLEASE pass this bill. I’m tired of driving over state lines or shipping bottles back to myself when I travel. I want to do what every other Alehead in America gets to do…buy a bomber or 750 at my local package store so that my hard-earned dollars help support my local businesses.
What do you say Alabama Legislature? I pay (most of) my taxes. I don’t commit (felony-level) crimes. I pick up (some of) my dogs’ poop. I’m clearly not aborting any fetuses (as you can tell by the number of dirty diapers currently inhabiting my domicile). Just this once, could you do me a solid and not restrict my rights? Is that too much to ask?
Oh, also, you should really consider passing that bill to legalize homebrewing. It’s only illegal here and in Mississippi…and you don’t want to fall behind them AGAIN…do you?