Last week when the “Growler Bill” passed through the House and Senate with surprisingly little fanfare, it wasn’t just another huge step for Alabama’s booming craft beer scene; it was a clear example of how far we’ve come when it comes to common-sense alcohol legislation in the state.
Gov. Robert Bentley has the bill on his desk, and has likely signed it into law by the time you read this. If that’s the case, you’ll be able to start buying up to 288 ounces of beer — the equivalent of a case of 12-ounce bottles or cans — directly from your favorite Alabama brewery or brewpub starting June 1. The bill also removes the last restraints from brewpubs, which will no longer have to be located in a historic district in a county where brewing took place before Prohibition.
It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. When it comes to beer laws, Alabama has gone from one of the most regressive states to one with a clear model of common-sense beer legislation in under a decade.
I have frightening memories of listening to the arguments on the House floor in 2008, when Rep. Alvin Holmes infamously asked: “What’s wrong with the beer we got? … I ain’t never heard nobody complain about the beer we have … Budweiser … Miller … Coors. It drink pretty good, don’t it?”
Walk down the aisles of a store like Cottage Hill Package Store in West Mobile today, and it’s almost hard to imagine those dark days, when the struggle was real and the choices were few.
Here’s a look back at legislation that has led us to where we are today.
2004 — A group of beer lovers in Birmingham, fed up with the Prohibition-era restrictions on beer in Alabama, form a grassroots organization known as Free the Hops. The group’s mission is to improve the beer culture in the state by lobbying to change laws that made more than 90 percent of the world’s greatest beers unavailable for purchase in Alabama.
2009 — The Gourmet Beer Bill passes, raising the allowable alcohol content in beer sold in the state from 6 percent to 13.9 percent by volume. This one law opens the floodgates for in-state breweries and new imported and craft beers available. However, outdated brewery statutes and limits on container size — restricted to just 16 ounces — would remain.
2011 — The Brewery Modernization Act makes it possible for Alabama’s breweries to operate taprooms and sell beer for on-site consumption. This creates a major source of revenue for small, independent breweries and a boon for the state’s tourism industry. Brewpub laws are also loosened, removing requirements for kitchens and seating capacities and allowing them to sell draft beer to distributors for off-site sales.
2012 — The Gourmet Bottle Bill increases the allowable container size from 16 ounces to 25.4 ounces. Now, 22-ounce “bombers” and 750 mL champagne-style corked bottles would become available for purchase for the first time. This entices breweries like San Diego’s Stone Brewing Co. to bring its product to market in Alabama, further increasing the beer consumer’s choices.
2013 — Homebrewing, which was legalized on a national level in 1979, is finally recognized as a legal hobby in Alabama. Many of the state’s professional brewers, myself included, learned the craft by brewing at home under the notion that, while it wasn’t likely, we could get arrested for participating in an activity that was allowed in 48 other states. This law removed that fear.
What’s wrong with the beer we got, you ask? Why nothing. Nothing at all.
Dan Murphy is a Certified Cicerone® and the founding brewer at Fairhope Brewing Co. Follow him on Instagram @Grand_Krewe and on Twitter @Beer_Man_Dan.