Free the Hops organizes beer boycott

William Evans

Anheuser-Busch, producer of Budweiser and Bud Light beers, has had a statewide boycott declared against all of its products from craft beer advocates in the state of Alabama.

Free the Hops, a non-profit advocacy group for craft beer, which is beer brewed without adjuncts such as rice or corn, issued the boycott because the group claims Anheuser-Busch is throwing its corporate weight against two bills that would ease the legal restrictions placed on breweries and brewpubs and the sale of craft beers.

Alabama currently requires brewpubs, which brew and sell beer on the premises, to house their businesses in historic buildings that have a history of selling alcohol since before Prohibition.

Also, brewpubs are not permitted to bottle and cap their specialty beers for off-premise consumption.

Free the Hops sees these restrictions as unnecessary and burdensome, so the non-profit group is supporting legislation called the Brewery Modernization Act that lifts these restrictions.

“BMA will make it easier for existing breweries to be profitable and expand while also making it easier to open up a brand new brewpub,” said Gabe Harris, president of Free the Hops, in an emailed statement.

Easing the legal restrictions on breweries and brewpubs will bring an added economic benefit to the state, according to a prepared statement from Free the Hops.

“The Brewery Modernization Act will help create jobs and revive dying neighborhoods in local communities,” according to the statement. “In addition, this bill allows brewpubs to provide tours and free samples. These free samples would be subject to the state and county taxes which could increase receipts from such taxes accordingly, taxes that go straight into Alabama’s education fund.”

BMA has passed in the Senate and will need approval from the House.

The sale of craft beers also suffers from restrictions on the size of the alcoholic containers that can be sold.

Because many craft beers exceed the state of Alabama’s container limit of 16 ounces, citizens are deprived of varieties of beer that other states allow.

“Alabama is the only state that restricts beer to 16 oz packages and below,” Harris said. “Many out-of-state craft breweries package much of their beer in 22 oz or 750 ml bottles. If they cannot bring all of their product to a state, then they are less likely to come.”

To lift the restriction on the container limit, Free the Hops is supporting the passage of the Gourmet Bottle Bill, which seeks to raise the maximum container size for beer sold in state.

The Alabama Brewer’s Guild, which promotes the interests of craft brewers, has joined Free the Hops in calling for a loosening of the legal restrictions imposed on breweries and brewpubs.

“Small, independent breweries in our state have a steep, uphill battle from their moment of inception,” according to a prepared statement from the Guild. “We do not enjoy the same privileges in Alabama that breweries in other states enjoy. Many breweries thrive in states such as California, Georgia, Colorado and Tennessee because they exist in a legal environment that is friendlier to craft brewers.”

Brian Anderson, a graduate student in community journalism, said the boycott doesn’t make sense if the group cares about quality beer.

Anderson also said there is a smaller market for microbrews, which are for beer connoisseurs.

“I think it’s terrible that a big beer company could put out a lot of smaller businesses,” Anderson said, “but at the same time, Anheuser-Busch puts out a lot of good mid-market beers.”

Anheuser-Busch was not able to reply to questions concerning the boycott within the time constraints of this article’s publication.