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.