During my recent trip to Portland (more on that in the coming weeks), something amazing happened in Alabama. I would be remiss in my duties as an Alabama Alehead if I didn’t let our readers know about the situation.
The day before I left for Oregon, the Gourmet Bottle Bill was on the Special Order Calendar in the Alabama House. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Free the Hops, the grassroots organization that is the heart and soul of the Alabama craft beer movement, the Gourmet Bottle Bill had passed the Alabama Senate and the House’s Economic Development and Tourism Committee. To get to the Governor’s desk, it just had to pass the House.
Of course, all Alabama craft beer fans know that “just passing the House” is far easier said than done. Just like their Federal counterparts, the Alabama House is a lot messier, more combative, and more batshit insane than the Senate. The folks who make up the Alabama House are “colorful” to say the least. Listening to a House session is the surest and easiest way to lose your faith in democracy and/or your sanity. With that in mind, I knew it was going to be a bumpy ride. Still…I wasn’t prepared for what happened.
All along, the Free the Hops brain trust felt “fairly” confident that the bill, which didn’t even come up for a vote last year, would pass in 2012. They had good support, strong sponsors, and a track record of passing bills with no deleterious effects (the Gourmet Beer Bill in 2009 and the Brewery Modernization Act in 2011). But as soon as the Gourmet Bottle Bill came up for a vote, things quickly fell apart.
The bill was presented by Rep. Mike Ball who noted that it was a fairly straightforward bill that simply raised the size of allowable beer containers from 16 ounces to 25.4 ounces…something that was already legal in close to a third of the counties in Alabama. After Ball spoke, all reason and common sense went out the window.
In past years, the irascible Alvin Holmes has been the bugaboo of Free the Hops, but this year, that honor fell to DuWayne Bridges. Here are Bridges’ totally logical arguments against the Bill:
- Sometimes when people get pulled over, they argue that they’ve only had one beer. But now that “one beer” could be a really big beer!
- People often feel obligated to finish their bottle of beer. That’s no big deal if it’s a 12-ounce bottle, but what if it’s a 22-ounce bottle and you still have 10 ounces left that you absolutely have to drink!
- Buying a 22-ounce bottle of beer somehow means the purchaser will have bought more total beer than if they bought a six-pack of 12-ounce beers (math is not big in Alabama).
- DuWayne Bridges made some mistakes as a young man involving alcohol and would like to prevent other folks from repeating said mistakes.
- Since his trouble-filled younger days, DuWayne Bridges has found Jesus. And since beer is essentially the anti-Christ (Jesus turned water into wine after all, not barleywine), it is only moral for DuWayne Bridges to vote against any beer-promoting bill.
Sadly, Bridges arguments weren’t even quite as cogent as I’m making them out to be. But despite the fact that he sounded like an almost cartoonishly incompetent, nonsensical buffoon, it appeared on the surface as if he had swayed at least a few people. While the Bill received a majority of votes, it fell well short of the 3/5ths needed and failed. And that was the end of the 2012 Gourmet Bottle Bill…
…or was it?
After much teeth-gnashing and garment-rending (and angry Tweets from yours truly and other pro-craft Alabama Aleheads), the Free the Hops wunderkinds got back on the wagon. While noting that chances were very slim, they explained that it would be possible for the bill to get back on the docket the next day if they pulled the right strings. It seems that the Gourmet Bottle Bill had been caught up in some “political crossfire” (their words, not mine). This happens often in Alabama. If Legislator A angers Legislator B by voting against Legislator B’s bill, a situation arises whereby Legislator B and his or her supporters/cronies get “revenge” by voting en masse against Legislator A’s bill. It’s what politicians call “gamesmanship” and what normal human beings call “childish lunacy”.
Nevertheless, Free the Hops sincerely believed that the bill was killed over some backroom shenanigans…not because of the content of the bill itself. So they pushed, coaxed, and cajoled…and the bill popped up 10th on the next morning’s docket. That might sound great, but getting through 9 bills in the Alabama House takes approximately 17 months. There were meaningless, irrelevant speeches. There was endless housekeeping. There were amendments…after amendments…after amendments. And, oh, the filibusters. A housing bill forced a two-hour filibuster which stretched on and on and on. Finally, after a seemingly eternal discussion about veto overrides, the Gourmet Bottle Bill was back on the table. It was discussed for mere moments…and then quickly and easily passed.
After a few days of hemming and hawing, the Governor signed the bill on Wednesday, May 16th making the Gourmet Bottle Bill the law of the land. Alabama now joins the other 49 states in allowing the sale of 22-ounce and 750-ml beer bottles. Never have I sighed with such relief over the repeal of such a ridiculous restriction. It’s amazing being so ecstatic about being given the right to do something that I would be allowed to do if I lived ANYWHERE else in the country. Ah well, when you live in Alabama…you live in Alabama.
So hats off to Free the Hops for once again rising to the challenge and making the impossible possible. I can’t wait to legally purchase my first bomber in Birmingham (as soon as I get through the 20 or so “insurance” bombers I bought in Oregon). In 24 hours, Alabama’s Aleheads went from dejection to elation thanks to the good folks at FtH.
Before I wrap up, I’d like to remind everyone to purchase your tickets to this year’s Magic City Brewfest (June 1st and 2nd at Sloss Furnaces). It’s the best beer event in Birmingham and there will be a ton of great brews, bands and food. Look for Brother Barley there…I’ll be the guy wearing a shirt, pants and shoes (and possibly a watch).
Enjoy your big beers everyone! They’ll be on the shelves starting August 1st. Just make sure if you get pulled over that you remind the officer you only had one beer.