As a new legislative session begins every year in Alabama, you can expect to find our state's breweries and beer lovers present to champion a cause to better our craft beer landscape. The effort in 2014 is led by the Alabama Brewers Guild with the introduction of House Bill 355 (HB355), a bill that would allow breweries in Alabama to sell beer to consumers directly for off-premises consumption.
Whether it is in their hometown or while on vacation, craft beer lovers all over the United States are always looking forward to visiting one of their favorite breweries. These trips typically give craft beer enthusiasts the following experience:
- The chance to tour the facility and see how the beer is made
- Meet with and talk with brewers and brewery personnel about their beer
- Sample the brewery's offerings in their taproom
- Take home a growler of a taproom-only offering or a bottle of a limited release offering available only at the brewery
Sadly, the experience for craft beer enthusiasts living in or visiting Alabama is absent of the last item on that list because it is currently illegal in our state for breweries to sell beer to consumers for off-premises consumption. This may seem trivial at a glance, but it is kind of mind blowing when you consider the fact that Alabama wineries have been able to sell bottles for off-premises consumption to consumers for decades. Alabama breweries and wineries require the same exact ABC license, but the breweries still lack this very important, revenue producing privilege.
The Alabama Brewers Guild hopes that HB355 will level the playing field with not only Alabama wineries, but also with almost 90% of the 2700+ breweries in the United States that are in a state that allows direct sales to consumers. If HB355 were to pass and off-premises sales at breweries were to become legal, this would be good for all parties involved. The brewery would be able to capitalize on missing revenue and fund projects like marketing campaigns that they may not be able to currently afford. The state would benefit by receiving a hefty license fee for the privilege of direct sales and the breweries would of course have to pay all federal, state, and local taxes on the products sold directly. Finally, the interests of distributors and the three-tier system would be protected by imposing a cap on the amount of beer a brewery could sell directly to consumers and by explicitly prohibiting self-distribution.
Another huge benefit of HB355 would be the effect on tourism in Alabama. Not only would direct sales at the breweries bring more money into their communities from visiting craft beer fans, but it could also attract other breweries to open a facility in our state. Recently, Oskar Blues Brewery (Longmont, Colorado), New Belgium Brewing Company (Fort Collins, Colorado), and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (Chico, California) have all established an East Coast location in fellow Southern state North Carolina, and these breweries will easily affect tourism numbers for the better thanks to craft beer fans making the trip to see these new facilities. Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido, California) is actively seeking their second location as well, but sadly they will most likely not even consider Alabama because of the inability to sell product directly to consumers for off-premises consumption. As reported by the Alabama Brewers Guild, this means our state is missing out on a "$20+ million project" that would bring "hundreds of jobs to the lucky location with revenues projected to exceed $100 million within four years." Simply put, our state will continue to miss out on potential tourism, taxable revenue, and jobs if HB355 is not passed.
HB355 was introduced into the Alabama House of Representatives on January 23. The bill is currently pending committee action before the Economic Development and Tourism Committee. If you would like to see this bill passed, you can contact the committee members or your local representatives to get this bill some attention. Also, make sure to keep an eye on the Alabama Brewers Guild website and Facebook page for updates and calls to action. HB355 is an important piece of legislation and all who support it can make a difference by simply getting involved. Let's get this bill passed to further the potential of our state's craft beer community. Prost!
**UPDATE 3-8-14** Alabama legislators have introduced two bills of their own in an attempt to entice larger, out-of-state breweries to Alabama. HB581 and SB439 are bills that would allow brewers to operate a restaurant and conduct direct retail sales for off-premises consumption, but breweries must produce over 25,000 barrels to be eligible for these privileges. This would be a huge disadvantage for our local breweries because there are currently no breweries in Alabama reaching that 25,000 barrel mark. Also, if these bills were to pass in their current form, it is widely speculated that a large craft brewer looking to open a second facility would view this situation as a deterrent instead of an incentive to choose our state due to the creation of a competitive disadvantage with their peers. The Alabama Brewers Guild and the Alabama craft beer community are currently working feverishly to have these bills amended to include all craft brewers in the state of Alabama. You can help by contacting your local representatives and let them know that you would like to see these bills amended to include all Alabama breweries and then passed. Everyone would love to see a large, out-of-state brewery open a facility in our great state, but never at the expense of the Alabama breweries that laid the groundwork that attracted them here in the first place. It is quite possible to help our local businesses while we try to convince larger ones to set up shop here. Frankly, it would be pretty easy and just simply make sense. Let's get these bills amended and passed. **UPDATE 3-8-14**