Free the Hops
Free the Hops/Alabamians for Specialty Beer is a grassroots lobbying organization founded to overturn Alabama laws, enacted shortly after prohibition, which limited the alcohol content of beer sold in the state to 6% by volume and prohibited the sale of beer in containers larger than 16 ounces. According to the group, 96 of the 100 highest-rated beers at BeerAdvocate.com were prohibited in Alabama by those laws.
Free the Hops was founded by Danner Kline in October 2004 in imitation of similar lobbying efforts which have had success in Georgia and North and South Carolina. Kline was interviewed for a segment on Comedy Central's The Daily Show which aired on October 18, 2005.
The group currently has more than 750 paid members and distributes its newsletter to 1,400 subscribers. Local chapters have been started in Auburn, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa. Stuart Carter took over the presidency from Kline in December 2007.
Bills introduced in the 2006 legislative session never made it to the floor for a vote, having been held up in committee until the session ended. The 2007 senate bill suffered the same fate, while the house bill did come to the floor, but did not receive the 60% of votes needed for passage in advance of the budget bill. The 2008 bill, a local measure sponsored by Oliver Robinson, died in committee. The 2009 bill raising the ABV limit from 6% to 13.9% passed both houses and was signed into law by Governor Bob Riley.
Opposition to the 2007 and 2008 bills from Birmingham Budweiser vice-president Pat Lynch prompted Free the Hops to call for a boycott of the distributor's products beginning on January 23, 2008. The company later became a contributor to Free the Hops.
Free the Hops has hosted the Magic City Brewfest since 2007 at Sloss Furnaces. It also hosts the Free the Hops Oktoberfest, began in 2009 in the 2100 block of Morris Avenue.
2007 Legislative Session
- House Bill HB195, a house bill to raise the statewide ABV limit to 14.9%, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson. No vote.
- House Bill HB728, a house bill to raise the ABV limit in Jefferson County to 14.9%, sponsored by Rep. Oliver Robinson. No vote.
- House Bill HB851, a house bill to raise the ABV limit in Mobile County to 14.9%, sponsored by Rep. James Buskey. No vote.
- Senate Bill SB211, a senate bill to raise the statewide ABV limit to 14.9%, sponsored by Senators Griffith, Byrne, French, Lindsey, Singleton, and Penn. No vote.
- Senate Bill SB320 and Senate Bill SB352, senate bills to raise the ABV limit in Baldwin County to 14.9%, sponsored by Senator W.H. "Pat" Lindsey. No votes.
- Senate Bill SB328, a senate bill to raise the ABV limit in Mobile County to 14.9%, sponsored by Senator W.H. "Pat" Lindsey. No vote.
- Senate Bill SB418, a senate bill to raise the ABV limit in Jefferson County to 14.9%, sponsored by Senator Rodger Smitherman. No vote.
2008 Legislative Session
- House Bill HB53, house bill to raise the ABV limit in Jefferson County to 14.9%, sponsored by Rep. Oliver Robinson. The bill died "Pending Committee Action in House of Origin".
2009 Legislative Session
- House Bill HB373, "to amend Section 28-3-1, Code of Alabama 1975, relating to certain definitions for the sale and licensing of alcoholic beverages, to further define the term "beer" for ABC licensing purposes, to include malt beverages with a higher alcohol content", sponsored by Rep. Jackson. The bill passed by a 49-37 in the house on March 3. The House bill was substituted for the Senate version and passed that body's Budget Isolation Resolution on April 28. An amendment brought forward by Senator Ben Brooks was attached to prohibit sales at convenience stores. Under the threat of a filibuster from Senator Hank Erwin, the bill was placed on a special order calendar and passed by a 19-9 vote on May 14 while Erwin was outside the chamber. After the Senate passed the bill with an amendment, the House vote to approve the changes. Governor Riley signed it into law on May 22.
2012 Legislative Session
During the 2012 session, the legislature approved a "Gourmet Bottle Bill" (SB294), which was signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley on May 16, 2012. The law allows beer to be sold in containers holding as much as 25.4 ounces.
2013 Legislative Session
During the 2013 session, the legislature approved a "Homebrewing Bill" (SB153), which was signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley on May 9, 2013. The law, primarily supported by Right to Brew, allows individuals not living in dry counties to brew up to 15 gallons of beer, mead, cider or wine in a three-month period for non-commercial consumption.
2016 legislative session
During the 2016 session, the legislature approved a "Beer to Go Bill" (HB 176), which was signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley on March 24, 2016. The law, which is expected to go into effect on June 1, allows breweries making less than 60,000 barrels per year to sell up to 288 ounces of beer, per customer, per day, directly from the brewery for off-premise consumption. It also allows breweries to donate up to two kegs to licensed charity events, and removes restrictions on locations for brewpubs. The legislation was supported by the Alabama Brewers Guild and sponsored by Rep. Anthony Daniels of Huntsville and Senator Bill Holtzclaw of Madison.
2017 legislative session
In 2017 the legislature passed the "Growler Privacy Bill" (SB 234, enrolled as Act 2017-404), sponsored by Bill Holtzclaw. The law removes the requirement for breweries and brewpubs to collect personal information from customers purchasing beer for off-premises consumption. It was signed by Governor Kay Ivey and went into effect on August 1.
- "Free The Hops" (January 26, 2008) Wikipedia - accessed February 1, 2008
- Crowe, Christina (August 25, 2005). "Freedom to Drink Tasty Brews". Black & White
- Spencer, Thomas (February 1, 2008) "Free the Hops calls for Budweiser boycott." The Birmingham News
- "Bill OK'ing stronger beer clears Alabama Legislature." (May 14, 2009) The Birmingham News
- Estes, Cary (May 2013) "Tapping into a new market." Birmingham magazine
- Velasco, Eric (June 2019) "How Free the Hops changed the state of Alabama beer." Birmingham magazine
- Free The Hops website