The middle of last week the Alabama grassroots movement known as Free The Hops announced a boycott on all Anheuser-Busch products and all products distributed by AB’s distributors. Before all you craft beer lovers start hootin and hollerin, let me give you a little background.
The current law in Alabama states that a brewery that wants to serve its beer on site has to be in a historic building with a restaurant that seats no fewer than 80 guests and must reside in a county that had a brewery before to 1918. Once a they meet this criteria, it can only sell its brew on site but cannot sell wholesale or for customers to carry off premises.
The Brewery Modernization Act (SB192) will change beer in Alabama forever.
It will legalize 22oz beer bottles, allow for outdated brewing laws to be lifted, and increase a profitable and friendly competitive beer industry statewide. But most importantly it will give the consumer more choice in the beer that they drink.
FTH claims that the AB distributors were blocking the Legislature’s passing SB192. Weeks of negotiations took place with lobbyists for Birmingham Budweiser and Turner Beverage of Huntsville to get the bill into a committee in the House of Representatives. Free the Hops grew suspicious that these negotiations were nothing more than a tactic to stall the bill and that the distributors had no intention of changing the existing brewpub laws.
There have been proposals from either side of the fence for a compromise. Free The Hops Vice President Dan Roberts had this to say on the organizations website:
“The first compromise was to revoke the Alabama Brewpub Act altogether and instead allow a brewery to obtain a Restaurant Retail Liquor License. A Restaurant Retail Liquor license requires a restaurant, so we said no. Then it was changed to allow them to obtain one of a variety of licenses that would allow them to be a brewpub or a tap room. The tap rooms would be allowed to sell beer for off-premise. We thought this was great! Then they changed it to on-premise only. We still thought that was pretty good. Then they changed their mind again. Their proposal earlier this week would have allowed for a “tap room” to have a 2 1/2 hour “tasting” in 2 oz. samples. It kept many of the restrictions on brewpubs in place. I got whiplash. I still don’t understand how we went from the perfectly acceptable compromise to that.”
Roberts then went on to say..
“Their latest Proposed language, given to us this week, was nothing short of an abomination.”
In response to this outrage FTH unanimously voted to ban all Anheuser-Busch products and those distributed by their distributors from their upcoming Rocket City Brewfest in Huntsville this may and Magic City Brewfest in Birmingham in June. Along with this ban they have lead a boycott against the company and it’s distributors in Alabama.
According to Stuart Carter, spokesman for Free the Hops,
“What we’re saying with this boycott is we as consumers don’t want to be channeling profits to wholesalers who are using those profits to prevent other consumers from getting the beer we want to drink.”
As great as this may sound to craft beer lovers, there are devastating casualties in this boycott. Carter also had this to say about the boycott,
“This is hurting friends, either friends we know or friends who brew the beer we love to drink.. …The problem is they’re the innocents in this who are caught in the crossfire.”
Here is a list of the breweries that are going to be affected by the boycott:
- AB InBev
- Great Divide Brewing Co.
- Boulder Beer
- Global Beer Network
- Widmer Brothers
- Durango Brewing Co.
- Red Hook
- Moylan’s Brewery
- Avery Brewing
- Red Brick
- Fordham Brewing Company
- Old Dominion Brewing Company
- Tommyknocker Brewery
- Back Forty Beer Co
- Gordon Biersch Brewing Company
- Southern Tier Brewing Company
Back Forty, an Alabama brewery, have supported Free The Hops from the beginning are being hit hard with this boycott because they are distributed by AB and sell their beers only in Alabama, therefore are pretty much going to be put out of business if this boycott is as successful as FTH intends for it to be. Some comments on the FTH blog posts have expressed their disappointment in many ways.
ant111 had this to say
“I don’t understand,how is a new brew-house like Back forty going to survive when they only sell their beer in Alabama and you are telling people to boycott and not buy their beer? Have they not supported your cause ?…..This is not a game, you are going to really destroy some people at Back forty who have done nothing but try and help you and your cause! Just couldn’t live with that myself… I’m not sure “how free the hops are” with that being the MO.”
Linus Hall (Yazoo Brewing)
“I think extending the boycott to non-AB products is going to do more damage to your cause to create a great beer culture in Alabama than it will help. These craft brands at AB houses do not have much control over what side their distributors take on this issue. Once they have signed with a distributor, they can’t easily get out of the contract. It’s better to support local craft breweries, even if they get to the shelves through an AB house. Your point will be made by boycotting AB products, and there isn’t any need to hurt local craft breweries like Back Forty just because they go through an AB house. Just my opinion, respectfully submitted.”
Others are taking on a different viewpoint and are pleased with the boycott.
“yeah it’s a shame that brands like back40 and others will get body slammed in this boycott but that’s why you never sell out in the first place. i think the big boys (buttwipers) started flashing $$$ and they hopped on board, pardon the pun, without considering the consequences of it down the road. i say stick it to the buttwipers and more power to the small breweries here in ALA. i get so tired of them manipulating and using their power and influence to keep small businesses down in this state. may this be a lesson to all of us that we should be very skeptical when the big boys take notice and come around flashing money inviting you to sell out. bunch of bullies with crappy products anyway.”
“It hurts to think this will do more damage to the smaller craft brewers using AB distribution than AB themselves, but it’s a necessary step to wake some of them up I suppose.”
Earlier I asked Butch Bailey, founder and president of Raise Your Pints, (the Mississippi grassroots movement aiming to change the outdated beer laws in MS) what were his opinions on the situation in Alabama and how it may affect their cause in Mississippi. This is what he had to say,
“Raise Your Pints supports Free The Hops and their mission. It is regrettable that Free The Hops had to take this drastic action in response to certain entities actively working to stifle craft beer in Alabama.
We’re not worried about the corporate mega-breweries or specific wholesalers because we are about promoting craft beer and they’re big enough to take care of themselves. It’s the craft brands like Back Forty that just happen to be caught in the crossfire that are the concern of everyone in the craft beer community.
Raise Your Pints is going to do what we can to prevent this sort of thing from having to happen in MS. We have goals that we will not back down from, but it is my belief that we can accomplish what we want without having to go to these measures. While we are prepared to do what is necessary to bring better beer to Mississippi, we will continue to work to build relationships with everyone involved as long as we can.”