Breaking the Home Brewing Law in Alabama
It is still against the law to brew your own beer in Alabama seventy five years after Prohibition. Beer enthusiasts in Alabama are now fighting for the right to brew and drink as and when they choose.
One such lawbreaking resident is Scott Oberman who in defiance of the Criminal Code 28-4-20 invites his buddies to taste his latest homebrew. Two dozen of them enjoy the taste of his latest brew he has called ‘John Tipton’s Chocolate Porter while stood in the basement of his home.
Scott announces “It’s a dark brown beer, almost black, with a taste that starts out astringent, like cheap red wine, and then mellows into a silky chocolate flavour, with fleeting notes of coffee and cinnamon.
The homebrew he estimates is about 8% alcohol which is 2% over the legal content of any beer that is distributed and anybody found to be brewing their own beer can face penalties of up to a year in jail with a $2,000 fine
On the wall of his workshop, Oberman 39, proudly shows off his ribbons he won from out-of-state home brewing competitions along with stocks of barley, rye and other ingredients he will use to brew his beers. All packed into litter tubs next to his row of stainless steel kettles.
He once paid $65 for a bottle of Thomas Hardy 1980 vintage ale which he enjoyed sharing with several of his friends. “The taste was no stupendous. But the experience was (almost) worth the money” he says.
‘Free the Hops’ Members
Craft beer lovers have a tough fight on their hands as teetotal Southern Baptists dominate the capital and they frown strongly upon home brews and stronger stouts that ‘may hurt the weak-willed’.
While they await the legislative lobbying outcome, they meet monthly for illicit tasting sessions under the one bare bulb in the basement where beers are tasted, analysed and enjoyed.
Residents are permitted to have beers shipped from an out-of-state government run warehouse which is run by the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Only after paying taxes and certifying that the beers are exclusively for their own consumption can they pick up the shipment of beer.
A group who called themselves ‘Free the Hops’ band together and drive the four hours each way to Tennessee or Georgia on beer runs. They bring back up to £500 worth of alcohol every few weeks.
Free from Hops has a fee payment membership of 750 and they have introduced bills in Alabama to legalise home brewing and to permit sales of beers with alcohol contents of up to 13.9%.
The Baptist State Convention is fighting to derail the 13.9% bill in the Senate. Joe Bob Mizzell who is Director of Christian ethics quotes from the Apostle Paul: “Be not drunk with wine but filled with the spirit”. He said “Abusing alcohol inhibits communion with God”.
Home Brewing History Titbits
For over 7000 years alcohol has been brewed domestically and throughout the first half of the twentieth century, home brewing was circumscribed by taxation and prohibition. This was manly due to the large breweries wanted to stamp out the practice that was taking sales away from them.
The Inland Revenue Act of 1880 in UK required a 5 shilling home-brewing licence and 33 states in America prohibited the production of alcohol by 1920.
This gave rise to the organised crime rate, bootlegging and gang wars in America and because of this the laws were repealed in 1933.
The pastime of home brewing beer in the UK was still severely restricted following World War II with the rising cost of the licence and ingredients were hard to obtain.
The brewing licence was removed in April 1963 by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Reggie Maudling and shortly afterwards in 1972 Australia following suit.
Home brewers owe the greater availability of information and ingredients to many pioneers; mainly C.J.J Berry who founded the wine brewing circles first in Hampshire and was joined quickly by three other counties.
Dave Line who wrote Amateur Winemaker and The Big Book of Brewing in 1974, is perhaps one of the most vocal proponent of home beer making.
Let’s raise our glass of home brewed beer/wine and give thanks that we are not living in Alabama!