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Monday, November 12, 2012

Knotso Sweet Home Alabama

As I've detailed before, Alabama is not exactly what sane folks would call a progressive state. Like most of the old Confederacy, the folks down in what Lynyrd Skynyrd lovingly referred to as "the Southland" have rather archaic views of many things. Alcohol just happens to be one of them.

If you saw the recent issue of Beeradvocate or if you have any kind of online craft beer news alert set up, you probably know that Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agents seized more than $5,000 worth of homebrewing supplies from Hop City Craft Beer & Wine in Birmingham in late September. Such a great story.

The way it came down is fairly straight forward. On the day ABC was supposed to issue Hop City's beer and wine license, several armed agents showed up at the store and offered to either arrest the manager or confiscate a portion of the homebrewing "contraband." Offering to arrest the manager was a nicely refined piece of southern hospitality, you have to admit.

As they prepared to drive off in a van filled with confiscated supplies, ABC agents told Hop City staff they would return the next day and confiscate the remaining contraband if it was still there. Naturally, the store owner opted to remove the offending items. Two days later, ABC granted the store's beer and wine license. Today it exists as a bottle shop and taproom without homebrewing supplies.

Living in Oregon, it's a little hard to imagine how things work in the old Confederacy. In the case of homebrewing, it's been legal in the United States since the late 1970s and is wildly popular. But Alabama (along with many other southern states) is decades behind the times, with seriously reactionary laws regulating alcohol, brewing and more. If I didn't know better, I might think these folks are still fighting the Civil War.

Hop City contends it notified ABC months ahead of it's planned opening that it intended to sell homebrewing equipment and supplies. There was no meaningful response...other than "homebrewing is illegal." But it turns out making wine at home is completely legal in Alabama. And Hop City suggested it might sell brewing supplies to nearby commercial brewers. There was no response from ABC...well, until agents with guns showed up and confiscated store merchandise.

It's hard to imagine, but the story gets even better. An attorney for ABC released this statement: "You can have sugar, you can have malt, you can have hops, you can have tubing, copper and everything else, but if you put it all together in a store and market it like it's going to be homebrewing stuff and [you] have a book about how to do it, it's a problem."

The good old days...
So it sounds like it's fine to sell all the homebrewing supplies and equipment you want, as long as you don't also tell people what it's for or sell a book that helps them connect the dots. Well, at least they're consistent when it comes to books in Alabama, which has a rich history of book banning and burning.

I do wonder if these folks will ever catch up with the rest of the country. Beyond the fact that homebrewing is the law of the land, you can't help but wonder if state agents might have better things to do than raid homebrewing supply stores. I hear meth labs are a huge problem in the Alabama. Perhaps the state could redirect its resources and do something about that. Oh...wait.

Cue the Neil Young.

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