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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Senators put aside "Free the Hops" bill

The Alabama Senate started smoothly on Tuesday, but Sen. Hank Erwin threatened to shut the chamber down the rest of the day over a "Free the Hops" bill that he said would allow a higher alcohol content in beer.

Erwin, R-Montevallo, is a fierce opponent of alcohol and gambling. He has announced he is running for lieutenant governor in 2010.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. He said Erwin has stood by as bills allowing Sunday sales passed.

"Let's free the hops," Singleton shouted.

He said the bill, which would allow a higher alcohol content for more expensive gourmet beer, is harmless.

The Senate reached an agreement to bring up the House version of the bill and add an amendment that would not allow the higher content beer to be sold in convenience stores. Senators then put the bill aside temporarily.

Erwin then continued to try to kill a bill sponsored by fellow Republican Steve French that would allow a higher alcohol content in table wine.

"We are going too far. We are going beyond common sense," he said.

Erwin said some people drink to get "smashed" and "blow your brains out with alcohol."

He made the comments the same day that at least one his Republican colleagues, Sen. Larry Dixon, talked about drinking at the microphone.

Erwin said he has never had a sip of alcohol.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erwin is a tool.

April 28, 2009 at 9:26 PM  
Anonymous John Little said...

As amended, HB373, permitting the sale of beer in Alabama up to 13.9%, except by retailers licensed pursuant to Ala Code 28-3A-17 (most grocery stores and small convenience stores), is not much help to Alabama's own local craft breweries and breweries in planning. It is the exception that offers very little assistance to help level the playing field for craft breweries located here in Alabama. What the exception does is to help ensure that monolithic, out-of-state, industrial beer mega-corporations maintain their vast dominance of the market, a dominance that can likely only be maintained long term by regulatory measures such as HB373's exception.

Alabama's small, independent breweries and breweries-in-planning have a very difficult time competing with megabreweries in the 6% and under ABV area. Small, independent brewers survive due to their ability to sell more flavorful brews that, while more costly to produce, are able to bring a much higher price at retail, and therefore a higher profit-margin for all involved from the manufacturing tier to the retail tier. Most craft beers appealing to beer connesiours are necessarily higher ABV because they are fermented using much more ingredients. The reason light beers are so light and cheap is because they are produced using the least and cheapest ingredients possible, their producers relying on massive volume of sales to generate profit.

High gravity craft beers are made for sipping, not chugging. When small, independent breweries are denied access to the same retail outlets that out-of-state megabreweries have, no one wins except the megabreweries, and retail shelves will continue to be loaded with cheap beer that kids will buy by the cases to funnel and play quarters and beer pong with, drinking it like carbonated water.

HB373, as now amended, prohibits retail stores licensed pursuant to Ala Code 28-3A-17 from selling craft beer with an ABV greater than 6%. Most grocery stores and small convenience stores are licensed pursuant to pursuant to Ala Code 28-3A-17 to sell beer for off-premises consumption. According to the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, nearly all off-premises beer sales in Alabama are by entities that have the 28-3A-17 license. A staff member in the Auburn/Opelika ABC office reported that 9 out of 10, if not more, grocery stores that sell beer in the Auburn/Opelika area have the 28-3A-17 license. The only "grocery stores" that typically hold the type retail license that is not covered by this amendment are the "on or off premises beer" licensees that may be granted pursuant to Ala Code 28-3A-16. Only a small number of "grocery stores" possess the 28-3A-16 license. These are stores like Sam's Club and other specialty stores that occassionally host heavily regulated tastings on premises, typically wine tastings. Call your own local ABC office to find out what your area's ratio is.

In order for Alabama's small, independent craft breweries to gain access to the typical grocery store shelf, first they'll have to convince the manager to make some room, which might mean a decreased shelf space for Bud Light Lime or Miller Chill. Due to the rising demand for craft beer, that might not be so difficult a task, even when the loss of shelf space is heavily opposed by those beers' distributors. However, the Alabama brewer's job won't be complete until he next convinces the manager to produce the bureaucratic paperwork necessary to change its licensure from a 28-3A-17 license to a 28-3A-16 license, as well as pay the price differential for the licensure change. This second step is a ridiculous and unnecessary hurdle, and does nothing more than prevent fair competition.

The amended HB373 is bad for local Alabama brewers who desire to do much more than sell kegged beer to restaurants. As long as we are willing to accept such compromises, Alabama's craft brewing environment will continue to be last among states. Alabama's small, independent craft breweries need access to the same retail outlets that out-of-state mega-swill producers have.

April 29, 2009 at 12:04 AM  

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South Union Street is the blog of Montgomery Advertiser political reporters Markeshia Ricks and Sebastian Kitchen. Always check here for the latest on the Legislature, elections and other activities and players in Alabama.

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