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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Law and Beer

I was recently working on an article about new breweries for Draft Magazine, and it took me to Alabama, where a couple of guys are trying to open Avondale Brewing in Birmingham. Alabama, population 4.7 million, currently has six breweries. In general, the South has trailed the rest of the country in good beer production, and I've always assumed there was a cultural explanation for this. But in talking with Coby Lake at Avondale, I learned that state law plays a huge role.

For example, until last night, it was both illegal for a production brewery to have a tasting room and for a brewpub to sell its beer off-site. Seriously. An organization called Free the Hops led a charge to change this, and it managed to get through the Alabama legislature yesterday. (Good thing for Avondale, too--they were building a bar in the brewery on the hope that the law would pass.)

That's not all. Until 2009, it was illegal to brew beer stronger than 6%, and it's still illegal to sell beer in bottles larger than 16 ounces. And last but certainly not least, it's illegal to homebrew in Alabama, one of only two states where that's the case (Mississippi's the other).

Imagine where California, Oregon, Colorado, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania would be if they still had laws like this. Laws have a huge effect in shaping how business evolves, and in turn shape how craft brewing evolves. Now, as the Yellowhammer State starts to loosen these 19th century laws, what do you think the effect will be? How a burst of new breweries? In addition to Avondale, seven more are planned--which would more than double the current total.


  1. Congrats to Alabama!

    Unfortunately, similar bills in TX were crushed by the powerful macro and distribution lobbies. So, it is still illegal for brewpubs to sell beer off-site and for breweries (the two are distinct and mutually exclusive) to sell beer on-site.

    However, they did manage to pass a bill that gets rid of tax exemptions that small brewpubs enjoyed. Way to support local, small business TX legislature!

  2. Did you get a sense for why the south has such draconian alcohol restrictions? Might go back to your cultural hypothesis.

  3. Distributors muscles are bigger in the south. Florida's laws are just as bad. Personally, I am discouraged from dreaming up a brewpub without the ability to also self distribute. As it stands, its nearly impossible to open a successful brewery in FL with the distribution laws. Cigar City's success has been encouraging, but there is so much in the way of getting good beer to the beer people.

  4. @Jason, that's what I was going to say. The Texas Leg. cares not about small business or about creating jobs for Texans. Unless you employ >500 people, they'd just rather you piss off.

  5. @Jeff - The 19th century laws? I think you will find that it was the laws of the early and mid 20th century that caused all the problems.

  6. When I can go to Costco, Walgreens or Trader Joe's and buy liquor at a retailers "sale" price and not an inflated self absorbent "STATE" regulated price; Oregon will have been thoroughly liberated from the States skirt tails and greedy clutches.

    Maybe an article on this subject would be more worthy for local discussion. I don't have to buy beer or booze in Birmingham, I have to buy over taxed booze in Oregon and that is my major concern.