Alabama Guild Boasts 100% Brewery Membership
Gathering at Birmingham’s Vulcan Park and Museum complex, a site dedicated to the city’s rich steel-making heritage, Alabama Brewers Guild President Jason Wilson (Back Forty Brewing Co.) and Executive Director Dan Roberts opened the 2013 annual meeting with a “state of the guild” presentation. The guild currently has 13 brewery members, representing 100% participation of in-state brewers, 26 allied/associate members and 87 enthusiast members.
The guild has a strong government affairs focus and Dan recapped the past year’s legislative efforts, including an on-going effort to allow brewpubs increased off-premise sales and a growing need to clarify the parameters in which breweries operate tasting rooms. The guild has been very active in the state legislature and has hired a lobbying firm to protect and advance their interests. To a round of boisterous applause, Dan spoke about the recent successful effort to legalize homebrewing and how this benefits the entire beer and brewing community in the state.
The balance of the meeting consisted of educational presentations, mostly focused on government affairs issues. The BA’s Pete Johnson updated guild members on the national legislative and regulatory landscape, including federal excise tax recalibration efforts, the status of the House and Senate Small Brewers Caucuses and recent developments regarding the Tax and Trade Bureau, Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission. A discussion of developing trends in state issues and guild activity across the country wrapped up this portion of the meeting.
Other speakers included a state Representative and co-author the 2011 Brewery Modernization Act (the legislation that allowed on-premise sales for breweries) who spoke about some of the early challenges for opening breweries in the state (e.g. requirements that they must be located in a building that was brewing beer pre-Prohibition, that brewpubs have a minimum of 80 seats for dining) and how he and other supporters successfully removed those obstacles. Although the current requirements on location are still somewhat restrictive – in an historic district or in an “economically distressed area suitable for a brewpub” – Alabama has clearly made great strides in becoming more small brewer friendly.
A representative of the Alabama Department of Public Health spoke about state inspections, which typically focus on sanitary issues: ensuring there are no rodents, that grain sacks are sealed and spills cleaned up promptly, storing hoses off the ground, making sure hand washing sinks are fully stocked with soap, etc. The state also contracts with the FDA to conduct inspections, which add a recordkeeping component (related to potential recall situations) and good manufacturing practice issues to the issues covered in the state inspection.
The Alabama Brewers Guild has come a long way since incorporating in January, 2012, not only in organizing the community of brewers, but also in effecting significant and positive change for the state’s small brewers. The time ahead holds great promise for Alabama’s small brewers with a variety of State House activities and legislative proposals already on the docket. With the guild leading the charge, success is sure to follow.