Ben Self, head of quality control at Good People Brewing Co. in Birmingham, draws a sample of the brewer’s Snakehandler Double Indian Pale Ale. (Michael Tomberlin/Birmingham News)
Written by Michael Tomberlin for The Birmingham News
The beer advocacy group that brought higher-alcohol craft beers to Alabama is now looking to release breweries and brewpubs from red tape and what it considers outdated laws that stymie the industry in the state.
The group, Free the Hops, is pushing the Brewery Modernization Act, which has been introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives. A similar bill is planned for introduction in the Alabama Senate.
The goal is to inject common sense into the laws that apply to breweries and brewpubs across the state, according to Free the Hops’ president, Stuart Carter. “Why are breweries and brewpubs under different legislation? At the end of the day, they both manufacture beer.”
Dan Roberts, head of legislative issues for the group, said the Alabama Brewpub Act from 18 years ago has not led to the expansion of breweries inside restaurants that many hoped for because the law made it difficult for brewpubs to find an approved location and to make a profit. For instance, brewpubs are limited to opening in historic buildings and other narrowly defined locations.
Today, only Birmingham and Huntsville have open, operating breweries. Several brewpubs that opened under the current law have closed, including some in Birmingham, Mobile and Auburn.
Similarly, entrepreneurs wanting to open a brewery have layers of red tape to fight through and even then are not allowed to sell their product or give free samples at the brewery, Roberts said. “We are severely limiting the growth of an industry that is finding success and creating jobs in other states.”
Carter said current laws prevent new businesses from forming and make it hard for existing businesses, including Birmingham’s Good People Brewing Co., to expand.
“Under the law as it is now, you can have a tour of Good People’s brewery and at the end of the tour all they can do is thank you for coming,” Carter said. “You can’t have free samples or buy their product to take with you.”
Good People plans to move from its small space in Five Points South to a new building near Railroad Park this spring. The larger building has enough space for a small pub or gift shop — neither of which would be allowed under the current law.
Amid the economic downturn, Carter said, the state should be doing all it can to lift restrictive laws on businesses — especially those in a growing industry.
Referring to the law that allowed increased alcohol content, Carter said, “We’re seeing the economic benefits … in new jobs that were under threat that are no longer under threat.”
Roberts said lifting the restrictions would create economic development opportunities for brewpubs and breweries to grow in the state. “It’s really about making an environment more friendly for business, which ordinarily we would all be in favor of.”
Roberts predicted the Brewery Modernization Act will have an easier time getting approval from the Legislature than did the measure to raise the level of alcohol content in beer, a move that allowed a greater variety of beers to be sold in the state. That measure took four years to pass, after battles with lawmakers opposed to alcohol on moral grounds and others concerned it would increase drunken driving in the state.
Roberts doesn’t think the Brewery Modernization Act will attract the same level of controversy because the changes being sought focus on the operations of businesses rather than the beer being produced there.