The Alabama Brewers Guild and the Free the Hops organization have been pushing for what is called the “Gourmet Bottle Bill,” or SB-294, which passed the upper chamber on Feb. 21. The bill would boost the legal size of beer containers across the state to up to 25.4 ounces, from the current 16-ounce limit allowed in most of the state.
The Alabama Brewers Guild has researched local exceptions to state beer container size laws and have found that more than previously thought — 13 counties in all — already have local enabling legislation allowing beer containers up to 24 ounces, 32 ounces and even 40 ounces in Perry County.
Advocates believe having so many current exceptions to the state law bolsters their argument that all counties that allow beer sales should be permitted to sell beer in larger containers. They said it would open the door for several craft beers currently not sold in the state.
Moreover, Birmingham and other state breweries have said they would like to release their own beers in the bigger containers. Birmingham’s own Good People Brewing Co. has done so, but could sell it only in a county where the bigger bottle was allowed.
“Retailers in Jefferson, Madison, Mobile and all other wet counties should have the same opportunity to sell larger bottles and cans,” Gabe Harris, president of Free the Hops, wrote on the organization’s website this week. “If citizens in those thirteen counties can buy beer in containers above 16 ounces, why can’t citizens in the other wet counties as well?”
The new legislation would not allow large container beer sales in cities or counties that are currently “dry” or do not allow alcohol sales. It would only apply to those “wet” cities and counties where alcohol sales are allowed.
Stuart Carter, a past president and current board member at Free the Hops, said considering the existence of bigger beer containers in other parts of the state, the new legislation seems even more reasonable than originally thought.
“We have 41 wet counties, so nearly a third of the wet counties allow containers larger than 16 ounces already,” he said. “So, why should only 13 counties have this option? Why not all of the wet counties?”
The Senate bill version has passed through the House tourism and economic development committee and is awaiting a vote of the full House.
“We’re in a great position that we can bring up either the House bill or the Senate bill,” Carter said.
Carter said the bill has the support of brewers, beer wholesalers and distributors, beer retailers and beer consumers, as was evident by the meeting in the House committee attended by representatives from all.
“We have all four tiers of the three-tier system,” Carter said. “We’ve got the breweries, we’ve got the wholesalers, we’ve got the retailers and, oh yeah, the people who buy the stuff.”
Carter said in addition to Free the Hops and the Alabama Wholesale Beer Association, the committee meeting included representatives from Birmingham’s The J. Clyde pub, Avondale Brewing Co. and the future Hop City beer store coming to Pepper Place. Back Forty Beer Co. in Gadsden also had a representative there, Carter said.
“You had standing in there representatives of four business that between them accounted for nearly 50 jobs and probably a couple of million dollars in investment in the state,” Carter said.
Carter said the Hop City representative told the committee he recently ran the numbers on its Atlanta store and discovered 12 percent of their business, or just under $400,000, was from Alabama. He also said 32 percent of the store’s business is in containers larger than 16 ounces.
Kraig Torres, chief executive of Hop City, said he is opening the Birmingham store in June on the gamble that the new law passes.
“It’s because of this bill passing that we’re coming to Alabama this year,” Torres said. “If we didn’t think it was going to pass in 2012, we wouldn’t be coming there. It’s that simple.”
Because the bill has such broad support and no real opposition, Carter said the biggest concern is something unrelated to the bill bogging down the House before the bill gets brought up for a vote.
“We have no idea what could come out of left field and destroy the productivity of the Legislature,” he said.
Assuming that does not happen, Carter said he hopes the bill passes before the end of this month.
“If we could do that, this year’s Magic City Brewfest could have an awful lot more breweries at it,” he said, referring to the annual event Free the Hops hosts at Sloss Furnaces, scheduled for June 1-2.
“I can’t name names, but I’ve got a mental checklist of breweries that are just about ready to pull the trigger on coming to Alabama, but that trigger will not be pulled unless we pass the container size bill,” Carter said. “I could name three or four craft breweries that would just have you drooling helplessly in sheer joy at the thought of being able to buy them in your local store.”
But Carter said it would also be good to buy Good People Brewing Co.’s County Line line of beers in Birmingham, but its 22-ounce container size currently makes that illegal.
“I have to admit I’ve driven from Birmingham to Coosa County to buy a beer brewed in Birmingham,” he said. “That’s absurd.”
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