Free The Hops was the subject of a story in Sunday’s Huntsville Times. I thank Challen Stephens for writing a quality, informative article on our cause.

The article features some quotes from Dan Ireland, executive director of ALCAP, an organization that opposes underage drinking and legalized gambling, among other things. First, let me say that I respect Mr. Ireland’s convictions, and I understand that many people abstain from alcohol for religious reasons. Furthermore, I am also opposed to underage drinking and I support his intent to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors.

But I must rebut his assertion quoted in Sunday’s Huntsville Times. Ireland’s exact words from the article are:

“It’s ridiculous to even think about putting a beverage on the market with that high level of alcohol that teenagers want to buy,” he said. As for the argument that the law already allows wine twice as strong, Ireland answered: “Beer is the beverage of choice, not wine. Kids are not going out and buying wine.”

Ireland’s comments are based upon flawed reasoning, partly due to the fact that he has never tasted a drop of alcohol.

What Ireland failed to mention is that beer is not the beverage of choice for kids; cheap beer is the beverage of choice for kids. I challenge Alabama’s law enforcement to provide evidence of a single bust of a high school party where the kids were drinking Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout at $10 a four pack. Underage drinkers buy cheap beer, the kind made by companies that sponsor football games and NASCAR drivers, not the expensive, hand-crafted beer brewed in small batches by thousands of microbreweries across the United States.

Not only are the mass-produced, lower-alcohol beers cheaper, they are much more widely available. Cheap mass-produced beer is already available in every grocery store, drug store, and gas station in every wet county in the state. With that many retailers to choose from, the odds are much better that underage drinkers can find one who won’t check their ID, unlike specialty gourmet beers that are only available at a relatively small number of retailers.

And finally, not only are the mass-produced, lower-alcohol beers cheaper and more widely available, they are easier to consume in large quantities. What Dan Ireland (as a teetotaler) does not know from personal experience is that even the “original” (non-light) varieties of the major brands’ beer are very light in color, flavor, and body compared most gourmet beers. All of the major brands’ beers have a very mild flavor and light body that makes them appealing to millions of people. That’s why they are the “major” brands. In contrast, most gourmet beers have very strong flavors and are heavy in body. They are acquired tastes and lend themselves to slow sipping. The higher the alcohol, the more ingredients required to produce the beer, the more expensive it is, the stronger the flavor, and the more difficult it is to drink quickly. No one “slams” barleywine.

The data supports my position. Here is a link to 2002 and 2003 data collected by MADD (an organization obviously sympathetic to ALCAP’s efforts) showing the percentage of deaths among 15-20 year olds that were alcohol-related, broken down state-by-state:

If Mr. Ireland’s assertion had any merit–if there is actually a link between the availability of high alcohol beer and instances of underage drinking–hen the states with low limits on the alcohol content of beer (in 2003, AL, GA, NC, SC, MS, WV, and AR all had a 6% limit on alcohol in beer) should have the lowest rates of underage drinking and thus the lowest associated fatality rate on the chart. As you can see, that is not the case. Alabama ranks at number 16 on the list in 2003. MADD’s data refutes Ireland’s claim.

Furthermore, data from MADD also dispels the myth that there is any link between the availability of high alcohol beer and drunk driving deaths. Here is a 2004 chart showing the percentage of deaths among all ages that were alcohol-related, broken down state-by-state:

Again, there is no correlation on the chart between states with limits on alcohol in beer and states with low rates of alcohol-related deaths. On that chart, Alabama ranks 28.

Again, I say to Mr. Ireland “I respect the strength of your convictions.” But I believe I have made a very convincing case that increasing the limit on alcohol in beer in Alabama will have no impact at all on underage drinking. The two issues are completely unrelated. So while I respect your decision to abstain from alcohol yourself, I hope you will not use spurious arguments to work against the passage of our Gourmet Beer Bill, which will do nothing more than give Alabama’s beer drinkers access to fine beers just as its wine drinkers already have access to so much fine wine.

We simply want consistency in the law.