After Home Brewing Seizure, Confusion and Unease

Making your own beer in Alabama has always been an uneasy hobby. That’s because Alabama is one of only two states where it’s illegal to home brew. In fact, the way the law reads, it’s even illegal to possess the supplies to home brew. But a recent enforcement action by the state Alcohol Beverage Control Board is drawing attention to the apparent inconsistent application of the law.

Last month, ABC seized $7,000 worth of home brewing equipment from Hop City, a craft beer and wine retailer in Birmingham, as the store worked through the licensing process. The store still opened after all the equipment was removed. While all the materials necessary to brew beer could be bought at a hardware store, ABC said at the time the issue was that the items at Hop City were packaged together and marketed with the intent of the buyer to brew beer.

But other retailers in Alabama have been selling home brewing equipment, in some cases for years.


Home Brewing Stores

If you do a quick Google search, you can find a handful of stores which specifically sell home brewing supplies. And with phone numbers and addresses, these retailers aren’t exactly hiding.

An employee at AlaBrew, a home brewing store in Pelham, remarked that in the wake of the Hop City situation they “wondered when ABC might show up."

But David Peacock, an ABC Board lawyer, said if a store sells beer and wine, it’s licensed by that board. If it doesn’t, and just sells home brewing equipment, the store doesn’t have to go through ABC. So agents went to Hop City because the board does license that store. For other retailers, Peacock said agents would respond to calls or complains and there have been very few.

Similarly, Alabama has a number of home brewing clubs with web sites that quietly promote the hobby despite its legal status.


Unease for Home Brewers

Eric Meyer is a partner at Cahaba Brewing Company, a new brewery in Birmingham. The business grew out of Meyer home brewing with friends. He said there was always an underlying concern law enforcement might show up while home brewing. He likens it to speeding.

“It’s kind of that same feeling you get when you are going a little bit too fast on the highway, looking over that next hill, is there a police officer there?”

Meyer said he doesn’t believe the Hop City seizure has dissuaded home brewers at all.

Instead home brewers are hoping state lawmakers will change the law. Republican State Representative Mac McCutcheon (R-Capshaw) plans to introduce a home brewing bill in the 2013 legislative session. A similar bill passed the House last year, but died in the Senate.

McCutcheon is confident about the bill’s chances next year. He said there is opposition from religious groups which are against all alcohol, although he declined to name them.


Where does that leave Home Brewing?

ABC Board attorney David Peacock said the board has no position on home brewing. It’s just following the law. However, he adds that Hop City was an isolated incident. He’s not aware of any effort to actively go after home brews nor are there plans for stepped up enforcement.

So it seems if you’re a home brewer, keep it low-key and don’t attract attention, you’re probably okay. Not so, said Peacock.

“You put me in a situation where I say it’s okay to break the law and I can’t say that.”

~ Andrew Yeager, October 4, 2012

~updated October 22, 2012, with comments from David Peacock and Rep. Mac McCutcheon