I saw a blog post the other day that made me chuckle by a young entrepreneurial businessman who believes that the finest beers in the world come from Redhook and Pyramid, not that there’s anything wrong with them. But he begins his post with something to the effect that most people don’t think of San Diego as a place to find good beer. You’d have to have gotten stuck drinking beers from 1987 to not notice that San Diego has one of the most vibrant beer cultures anywhere in world, and a handful of breweries there have literally redefined hoppy beers. But what does that have to do with Alabama? Nothing, really, except that in my mind it would be hard to find a place I perceive as more backward, beer-wise at least, as Alabama. It’s a beautiful state and I’ve been through it twice, though I confess that I didn’t stay long. There homebrewing is still not legal, despite federal legalization in 1978! Brewpubs were only very recently made legal there, albeit still under limited circumstances.
In 1937, four years after Prohibition ended, when Alabama reluctantly passed the Alcoholic Beverages Control Act, beer finally became legal again in the Yellowhammer State. Having convinced business owners that if they allowed workers to drink beer over 5% abv (6% today) or in packages larger than one pint that productivity would suffer. And that means approximately 98 of the top-rated 100 beers on Beer Advocate are still illegal in Alabama because they’re either too strong or in a bottle too large, or in some cases both. That’s assuming you live in county that’s not “dry,” meaning no alcohol can be produced, sold or distributed. Approximately one out of every three is dry, with 26 of Alabama’s 67 counties designated dry. There are also some “wet cities” within the dry counties and draft only areas in the state, along with a maze of Sunday laws, too, according to the state’s ABC website.
An excellent grassroots non-profit organization, “Free the Hops,” has been working tirelessly to bring Alabama kicking and screaming into the 21st century. They created a bill, SB 211 (which passed in the Senate), and in the House, HB 1195, with Representative Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville) sponsoring the bill.
Unfortunately, according to the Decatur Daily, it was defeated yesterday by failing to get the necessary two-thirds votes. The main reason cited in the article was that old canard, “the children.”
Here’s a sample of the genius thinking of Alabama’s elected officials:
“I can’t see us doing something that’s going to encourage people to drink more and get drunk faster,” said Rep. DuWayne Bridges, D-Valley. Bridges said the measure would increase the problem of teenagers drinking by making more potent brew available to them. “Our children don’t need to increase their alcohol consumption,” Bridges said.
Rep. Richard Laird, D-Roanoke, said young people would still find a way to drink the stronger beer. “The only thing this bill will do is just get our young people dead a whole lot faster,” Laird said.
I find it quite amazing that these so-called representatives of the people are so willing to completely ignore the right and wishes of every adult in the state in order to reduce the possibility that one of these extreme beers might fall into the hands of a minor. If that’s the logic, do all wines and spirits likewise have to be 5% abv or less? They don’t, of course, and it’s the usual hypocrisy where beer is demonized while the higher alcohol drinks do not face the same obstacles.
As anyone with an ounce of common sense and even a little experience with beer will tell you, the complex flavors of big beers do not appeal to younger palates. If they want to get drunker quicker they’ll gravitate toward sweeter wines or mixable liquor, both of which are already legal in the state. All this prohibition accomplishes is restricting Alabama adults from the full enjoyment of a product that’s readily available to most of the rest of the world, in effect punishing their own citizens.
This is not the best way to live. When you go too far in trying to protect children that you infringe on the rights of your adult population you’ve jumped into the deep end of fanaticism. I’m sure the feeling is mutual, but I’m certainly glad I don’t live in a place that’s more concerned about what it’s kids could get their hands on than the rights of its adult population.
HB195 did not make the floor for a vote today. An odd little corner of our constitution known as the Budget Isolation Resolution (BIR) kept our bill off the floor. More on that later, but in a nutshell, our state constitution mandates that at any point before the legislature has passed a state budget, every bill must first pass a BIR vote before it goes for a “real” vote. And while a bill can pass a “real” vote with a simple majority, it must pass a BIR vote with a 3/5 majority. In other words, you need MORE votes to pass a BIR than you need to pass the floor. Therefore, even though we had a solid majority of votes today, it was not sufficient to pass the BIR, and thus we never made the House floor.
Especially surprising and troubling was that certain Representatives who told their constituents they would support HB195 voted “No” on the BIR today. They voted against us. They lied to their constituents. This is a deep matter I will explore in depth, and tirelessly so. I will not rest until the truth is exposed. The fact that AL Representatives lied to their constituents about how they would vote on a particular bill is a matter far bigger than the Gourmet Beer Bill.
Realize that our House bill was not killed. It can still be put back on the calendar and we can get another shot. If we can convince a handful of today’s “NO” votes to abstain or vote yes, this is worthwhile. We are FAR from finished this year.
There are a LOT of questions floating around. A lot of emotions. A lot of comments. A lot of fact-based thoughts. A lot of everything for those of us who started this day thinking we’d see HB195 pass the House. I simply don’t have time to answer every question and address every comment. There is too much to be done.
But know this: I am more energetic and more committed than I have ever been to seeing the 6% limit raised.
Our House bill was not killed today; it simply did not make the floor for a vote. Our Senate bill is still very alive. Our local bills are still very alive. We just have a lot of work to do, me especially. And the result will be over 6% beer hitting the shelves somewhere in Alabama in 2007. We are FAR from finished this year.
So why did the Decatur Daily report that the bill had been defeated? Good question, perhaps Associated Press Writer “Billy” Bob Johnson or the newspaper is against the bill, who knows? I hate to sound the conspiracy gong so early, but it’s more than a little odd. It’s either that or an example of some pretty shoddy reporting.
UPDATE NOTE 4.6: This post has been substantially updated thanks to the comment from Bradley. Thanks for that.