MOBILE — Brian Kane, co-owner of Fairhope Brewing Company, would love to sell bottled beer to-go from the brewery’s tap room. But right now, he can’t.
Instead, as part of the state’s “three-tiered” system, the beer has to be sent through a distributor first. An old law that some believe is antiquated, the system puts independent distributors between manufacturers and retail sales.
Kane told members of the Alabama Alcohol Beverage Study Commission during a public hearing Thursday that he had no interest in becoming a major distributor, but wanted to be able to sell his product to visitors on-site.
While a brewery can sell alcohol for consumption on premise, commonly through a tasting room or taproom, state law prohibits the sale of alcohol in these establishments for off-premise consumption
“We would love to have off-premise sales,” Kane told the commission. “Visitors from all 50 states have come to the brewery and many wanted to pick up a six pack on their way home.”
Kane joined a flurry of speakers at Mobile’s Government Plaza today to discuss tweaks to current Alabama laws concerning the three-tiered system. Most of the 18 speakers represented beer and wine manufacturers who favored some change to the current restrictions.
One was Dan Roberts, of the Alabama Brewers Guild. He told commissioners that while the guild supports the three-tier system, changes to the law are necessary. In a proposal he presented to the commission, Roberts said the guild supports off-premise sales and a certain level of self-distribution that would allow new breweries to get established.
“The current law doesn’t account for new breweries,” Roberts said.
The state currently requires a brewery or vineyard to sign on with a distributor as a requirement to sell beer statewide, commission co-Chairman Sen. Paul Sanford said after the meeting. He added that many brewers find the requirement to be a hardship because distributors may be reluctant to partner with a unproven client.
Cindy Monroe, a Chambers County farmer and prospective wine manufacturer, said there needs to be a level playing field for alcohol producers. She asked the commission to consider giving wineries the ability to self-distribute. As an example, she said the corn, grits or grapes she produces can be sold from her farm directly to retailers. If she were to produce wine with the grapes, which she plans to do next year, she would have to first go through a distributor.
“We just want to be treated fairly,” she said.
Others believe the law should stay the way it is. Rebecca Maisel, general counsel for Mobile’s Gulf Distributing Holdings, Inc., told the commission distributors are required to collect excise tax for their clients. She added that distributors want to help encourage growth for these small businesses.
“In retail stores today, consumers have more than 100 choices from boutique craft breweries across Alabama and the world,” Maisel wrote in a statement. “Alabama’s beer wholesalers provide the funding to put those on the shelf for the consumer. The explosion of craft beer sales is an absolute result of the excellent partnership we have with local breweries in marketing and delivering the small batch and unique products they produce.”
Still, other speakers told commissioners they support current state alcohol laws because of the dangers associated with alcohol. Mary Zoghby, of the local Boys and Girls Clubs, told commissioners local distributors invest money in education young people on the dangers of drinking. Representatives from the Foundation for the Defense of Families and the Child Advocacy Center also spoke in favor of current regulations.
Updated at 2:23 to clarify state law regarding wineries.