Perhaps the biggest thing we conceded, in the eyes of the distributors, is maintaining the separation between brewpubs and production breweries. Alcohol laws are very specific to individual states, and in Alabama the brewpub license is a special class of license which allows a manufacturer of beer to sell directly to the public. It is important to the wholesalers that the license retain its “special” status by being limited.
For us as consumers, it is important that the brewpub license be more available and that production breweries (like Good People and Straight to Ale) be able to have tasting rooms on their premise.
With that in mind, here is an overview of the compromise substitute we worked out, with explanation. The explanation is based on discussions between the Free the Hops, the ABC, the distributors, our lobbyist, our Senate sponsor, and an attorney who specializes in Alabama’s alcohol code.
- Allowed to have tastings and samplings without ABC restriction on time or sample size
This will allow for production breweries to have tours and tasting rooms without being compromised by arbitrary restrictions from the ABC. All of the production breweries seem very happy with this side of the bill – they don’t even have to buy an additional license.
- Must be located either in a historic building, in a registered historic district, or in any economically distressed area as defined by city council or county commission.
- 10,000 barrel production limit
- May sell to wholesalers for distribution outside of brewpub
- Must be in a county that produced beer before 1918
- Requires restaurant or food operations – no kitchen or minimum seating requirement
This is where we conceded the most to keep the brewpub license “special.” Instead of removing all the seemingly ridiculous restrictions, we’re only tweaking them to be more expansive. It’s less than ideal, but we believe it will accomplish the goal of providing an environment more conducive for brewpubs to open as well as our goal of passing a bill which allows for real brewery reform in Alabama.
The main change is adding “economically distressed” to the list of allowed premises. The city council will be able to deem an area economically distressed if they want to approve a brewpub location. It was purposely drafted that way to make it very subjective but still preserve the class distinction. The term appears to have no consequences other than allowing a brewpub to be located there and was favored by our sponsor, Senator Holtzclaw, who is a former city councilman. Does an area with an empty building – a building that would be perfect for a brewpub – constitute an economically distressed area? That’s up to a city council.
The silly county restriction is still in there. Not happy about it, but we’re being practical and know of no business plan which wants to open in a county not covered by this aspect of the law.
We were also able to remove the 80 seat restaurant requirement. In fact, the substitute reads “The brewpub must contain and operate a restaurant or otherwise provide food for consumption on the premises.”
Again, this is not everything we wanted. We will likely be criticized by our supporters for not sticking to our guns and engaging in a slug match to get on the calendar and get final passage. But this is the real world. We can almost guarantee that this substitute will pass in the few legislative days left this year. After the homebrew bill failed last week, it is clear that even common-sense beer legislation will have a tough fight. This substitute will reduce our enemies as we move toward final passage with this legislature.
There are real businesses out there that can grow with the changes this bill provides. There are real business plans out there that can begin only if the changes in this substitute happen. We fought for the provisions in this substitute that they need. We got them all.
This is a substantive first step. If we later determine that other restrictions need to be removed from the brewpub license or that new provisions need to be provided for the production breweries, either Free the Hops, the Alabama Brewers’ Guild, or another entity may address those in the future.