The rest of the world may find it hard to believe, but Alabamians have been prohibited, buy law, from serving and selling beer with a higher alcohol content above 6%. Also, beer cannot be served in anything larger than a pint, ruling out delicious beers that are served in 22 oz bottles and larger. This may not sound like the worse thing in the world, but if you actually enjoy gourmet beer then you may find yourself in what some would describe as "beer drinkers hell." Beer Advocate is a website dedicated to gourmet beer and features a top 100 list of the world's best beers according to it's reader. On this list, only a handful (less than 5) can be served in Alabama. With the state of gourmet beer in peril, an amazing group of organized individuals got organized and decided to do something about this crisis.
Free the Hops, a non-profit grassroots organization started in 2006 by former Samford graduate Danner Kline, was formed in an effort to change the oppressive beers laws of the state. The group quickly gained momentum and hired a lobbyist to help in getting a bill proposed in the House of Representatives. In 2007, the bill, to raise alchohol content in beer to 13.9%, failed to make it out of the house. The bill was actually given the "Shroud Award," a phony award given for being the deadest bill of that session. Despite this failure, Free the Hops made headlines around the country in print media and the news. In late 2007, Danner Kline resigned as President of Free the hops and was succeed by Stuart Carter. 2008 saw the bill in the House floor again, but this time it was far from being a competitor for the Shroud Award. The bill passed with 48 yeas, 42 nays, and 2 abstains. This was a major victory that would be short lived. Due to the inactivity of the Senate, the bill never made it to the floor for them to vote on. In most states this would have meant that the bill would have started in the Senate the next year, but Alabama is different. The bill must start the procedure all over again. With that heavy hit, Free the Hops had to persevere. In 2009, the Gourmet Beer bill was back on the House floor where it passed. Now it was time to play the waiting game. The same one that ended in dismay the previous year, but on May 14th the Senate approved the bill and it was now up to the Governor Bob Riley to sign it into law. The governor has 6 days to sign a bill after it passes, excluding Sunday. Free the Hops along with its supporters started calling, emailing, and faxing the Governors office asking him to sign the bill. With the ball in Riley's court, it was now a waiting game, and after 3 years of trying to allow great beer into Alabama, Governor Riley signed the bill the morning of May 22nd 2009. So the hops have been freed, but it is still not over. While this is in fact a great victory, there are still other laws to change, including the one outlawing home brewing and the container size, but at least for now we can rejoice in emancipation of the hops.
Last year, Paul Sholly and myself directed a short documentary about the 2008 Free the Hops legislative session. This is where Free the Hops was one year ago and today they have accomplished a huge task. Please enjoy our film below, and have a beer today in honor of this day.