A panel of roving lawmakers and other state officials tasked with revamping some of Alabama’s alcohol laws met in Mobile Thursday. Brewers, farmers who make wine and those that want to take the opportunity to bend their ears.
The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Study Commission is expected to visit Colorado and North Carolina later this year to learn about their alcohol laws once it swings through the state for meetings in Mobile, Hoover and Huntsville.
An act of the legislature created the body after several measures that would have allowed breweries to sell beer directly to a consumer to go. Beer makers in the state argue that the three-tier system, which provides individual licenses for brewers, distributors and retailers, needs to broaden in order for their businesses to grow.
Off-premise sales is “our No. 1 goal,” Brian Kane, owner of Fairhope Brewing Company, said to the commission. Tourists from out-of-state regularly expect to be able to come in, taste beer and take some home, Kane added.
“It seems the logical place to look, go to the brewery itself,” Kane said, noting that several states already permit those kinds of sales.
“We’d like to have that person who comes in from Louisiana on their way to Gulf Shores come in and pick up a six-pack or a growler on the way from our place to go.”
Under current law, breweries and brewpubs are limited to selling beer in their tap rooms or restaurants, often in small amounts.
The Alabama Brewers Guild released a report recently calling for the creation of a single craft brewer license. The advocacy organization’s proposal would allow brewery owners to sell beer directly to consumers in kegs and 32-ounce or 64-ounce jugs called growlers.
Dan Roberts, executive director of the Brewers Guild, said though it may be “more controversial,” they’re also asking breweries receive permission to self-distribute and for brewpubs to sell their beer to go with the single license. “We’re open to alternatives,” Roberts said.
Rebecca Maisel, a lawyer for Gulf Distributing Company of Mobile, said in a prepared statement that a proposal from the beverage distribution industry is forthcoming after the commission finishes its research.
Maisel defended the current laws at the meeting, saying the “three-tier system — as it is now — is working” in the state.
“There are no barriers to entry to getting into a brewery and they already have the ability to have people come in and taste their beer in their taproom,” Maisel said. “So if someone wants to purchase their beer, they can go across to street where a distributor has brought it and they can buy it from that store.”
Winemakers and distillers also impressed upon the commission needs for their industries.
Cindy Monroe, a farmer in Chambers County, said she has “four acres of grapes in the ground” with plans to more than double that by 2016 when she expects to open a winery. “But this industry today, the way the regulations are, they do not support Alabama farmers and Alabama growers,” Monroe said.
Monroe, 55, sought to make her point with “show and tell” presentation, a basket filled with cane syrup, grits and wine — all made from products grown on the farm she has with her husband.
Wineries are subject to regulations similar to the beer industry, she said they are limited to selling their product at the winery for visitors to drink and through a distributor. Under that practice, Monroe said it becomes more difficult for smaller establishments to gain a foothold in the industry.
“We can make all of those things and I can go into any store in this state and sell it,” Monroe said. “But if I make wine, you can’t do that. Think about it from that perspective.”