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Opinion: Level the Playing Field for Small Craft Breweries in Alabama

By: Jeff Heck, Co-Founder and CEO of Monday Night Brewing, Joel Iverson, Co-Founder and COO of Monday Night Brewing, and Jonathan Baker, Co-Founder and CMO of Monday Night Brewing

We founded Monday Night Brewing, an Atlanta-based craft brewery, with a clear purpose – “to deepen human relationships over some of the best beer in the country.”  One of the primary ways we live out our purpose is creating spaces where people can gather together and get to know each other better. It’s what gets us up in the morning.  Monday Night has been invested heavily in Alabama for the last 5 years selling our beer to retailers across the state. Now we are actively planning to open a brewpub in Birmingham’s The Denham Building project, near Regions Field and Railroad Park, but it’s dependent on the House’s passage of SB404.

SB404 passed the Senate 26-2 on Thursday with strong bipartisan support.  The passage of this short, simple bill will have measurable and immediate economic impact for the state.  We are excited to bring significant investment and jobs as the anchor tenant for this broader $30m urban renewal project, which will create 300 new jobs over the next several years.  But it’s up to the House to decide whether or not this economic development project becomes a reality.

The bill would level the playing field for craft breweries in Alabama by allowing small craft breweries to own and operate one brewpub each in the state.  Under current law, out-of-state breweries that do not distribute beer in Alabama are not considered manufacturers and therefore could open a brewpub in the state, while in-state and out-of-state breweries that have invested in growing their wholesale businesses in Alabama cannot.  It’s not only counter-intuitive, but bad economic development policy that breweries already investing in Alabama be at a competitive disadvantage.

Critics fighting the passage of the bill argue that it undermines the three-tier system that regulates how alcohol can be sold.  This is patently untrue. Our wholesale partner in Alabama, International Wines & Craft Beer, and the ABC Board are fully supportive of the legislation.  SB404 requires that all product sold at a brewpub must be either made on site or purchased from a wholesaler, preserving the integrity of the three-tier system.  We are supporters of the three-tier system. It enabled us to grow from a group of friends meeting for Bible-study to a homebrew gathering to a craft brewery selling beer throughout Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.

Other naysayers, including a subset of brewers in Alabama, argue that this bill doesn’t go far enough, and more comprehensive reforms are needed to ensure the continued growth for small craft breweries.  We do not disagree, but this bill is a win for the state, Alabama brewers and consumers, and it is needed now. If we are permitted to open in Alabama, we look forward to bringing the same spirit of good faith and win-win reforms that we have advocated in Georgia for the past 5 years.

SB404 is an opportunity for the legislature to show that they are truly advocates for fairness and economic development, leveling the playing field and giving the consumer more choice.  We’re ready to invest even more heavily in Alabama. Now it’s up to the legislature to remove outdated, unfair barriers and make it a reality.

For more information, contact Joel Iverson at [email protected].

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