Is it time to throw a ‘Bama Beer Party?

Lawmakers in Montgomery who claim to be “pro-business” Republicans or the more philosophically consistent “free market conservatives” ought to be ashamed for allowing a bill to die earlier this month that would have finally “freed the hops” in Alabama.

The bill would have removed a senseless government barrier that has long forbidden Alabamians from buying beer to-go straight from local breweries and taking their beverages home in what craft beer drinkers call “growlers” (a fancy word for a jug). Enthusiasts know that the best way to taste beer is straight from its brewers, but Alabama remains the only state with such a prohibition.

State Sen. Bill Holzclaw, R-Madison, sponsored the legislation that would have partially removed the ban and he managed to get it approved by a Senate committee earlier this year, but it never received a floor vote and it was never even taken up by the House. The Alabama Brewers’
Association, which represents more than two dozen breweries across the state, has long called for direct sales and hopes to see another bill next year.

AL.com Opinion

  • About the writerJ. Pepper Bryars grew up in Mobile and is now a writer living in Huntsville. Contact him at jpepperbryars@gmail.com and jpepperbryars.com.

So what’s the issue? Currently, if you want to purchase one of Alabama’s incredible craft beers you can visit a brewery, buy a pint straight from the owners and drink it there (highly recommended).
You can also buy a glass at local restaurants, bottled from local stores, and you can even fill your growler with you favorite craft beer to-go from tapped kegs in some of those stores. But what you still cannot do
— what the state says is illegal — is fill your growler straight from the brewery.

Why is beer illegal when it’s poured into a growler at the brewery, but perfectly legal when it’s poured into a growler at a store? Does something magical happen to the beverage between the brewery and the store?

Yes, and it’s called the magic of the middleman.

Holzclaw’s bill was strongly opposed by Alabama’s Wholesale Beer Association, which delivers beer from brewers to stores and restaurants.

“The Alabama Brewers Guild has not included us in their processes and continues to introduce one-sided special interest bills without addressing the statewide concerns raised by the Legislature, the ABC Board and other industry parties,” read a statement issued last April by the Alabama Wholesale Beer Association. “We stand ready, willing and able to participate in a collaborative effort to draft and support legislation to advance the evolutionary changes in our laws that will promulgate proper regulation while serving as a catalyst for continued growth of our industry.”

Translation: “We’re not going to let this through the legislature until we can find a way to make money from it, or at least not lose too much money in the process.”

Fair enough. They’re arguing for their livelihood, and the distributors have done a great job of bringing an incredible variety of beers to Alabama in recent years. I thank them, but lawmakers who oppose the bill don’t have a leg to stand on.

Unless I woke up in the Soviet Union, I should be able to walk into Yellowhammer Brewery in Huntsville, fill my growler with their excellent Belgian white ale, pay the bill and go home. What possible justification does the state have to interfere with that transaction?

While this is a relatively minor issue effecting few citizens, it does highlight the fact that when conservatives warn of “big government”
and “over regulation” we’re not always speaking about the federal bureaucracy. Some of the greatest threats to individual freedom, if not the most annoying, come from our city halls, county commissions and, as with the craft beer to-go issue, from our state legislatures.

I wonder what Sam Adams — who as the bottle says, was a brewer and patriot — would have said about such a law. He organized the Boston Tea Party and threw the “king’s tea” into the harbor because the government wanted to limit what the people could buy, all to benefit the special interests who delivered tea to the colonies.

I’m not suggesting that we should throw our own ‘Bama Beer Party where we’d pour the King of Beers down the drain in protest, but the idea is intriguing.