Commentary: Proposed law in Alabama Bad for Business

A proposed rule by the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board seems to be a step in the wrong direction when it comes to helping craft breweries grow in their borders.

A proposed rule, which will be considered by the board at a meeting in late September, is to require the facilities to collect the name, address, age and phone number of any customer that buys off-premise products from an on-site brewery.

It’s part of eight proposed changes to regulations by the ABC, which has loosened laws over the past few years to help craft beer grow in Alabama.

A consumer organization, Free the Hops, took a strong stance against the change.

“The implications of this should be highly concerning, not only to craft beer consumers, but to all people throughout the state,” wrote Nick Hudson of Free the Hops on the organization’s website post. “As nonsensical as it might seem, this rule would essentially empower the ABC Board to come to an individual’s house to confirm his or her purchase of a six pack of beer. One can’t help but ask, why?”

The Alabama Brewers Guild is in lockstep.

“We also oppose this provision,” the guild wrote on its website. “We appreciate the privacy concerns, and we believe it would create an unnecessary burden to business.”

This wording could be misguided, to put it lightly. But let’s be blunt: it’s an attack on small business in the state and an invasion of consumer privacy.

Alabama currently has 21 breweries and four brewpubs in the state with at least another 13 in various stages of planning.

A law passed like this could cripple any brewery looking to leave its four walls. Although consumption in taprooms can be a huge benefit (and profit) to a brewery, being able to sell growlers and crowlers for off-site consumption is a big monetary boost as well.

On June 1, the state allowed off-site consumption, including sales of six-packs, growlers and other containers up to 288 ounces per day.

One might think if consumers don’t want to put down their information, they can just go buy the beer at a convenience store, bottle shop or grocery chain. Yet, many of the two dozen breweries either don’t sell packaged products. That means, if this law goes through and consumers can’t buy any products to bring home, those breweries lose business.

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Of course if breweries comply and spend the money needed to package (a huge undertaking for many small businesses) then wholesalers and the government profits because of increases to the second tier of distribution.

It’s said this is a way to keep record or being able to audit breweries. Does the Alabama ABC have that much time on its hands to do such a thing as going door-to-door to ask if a consumer purchased a growler from their local brewery? How is this an honest use of tax payer’s dollars?

“The ABC is trying to do their job, and we understand the reasoning,” the Alabama Brewers Guild said on its website. “However, we believe there are less invasive ways to ensure compliance. We look forward to working with the ABC during this process, and we will be submitting written input during the public comment period.”

It seems like making consumers give out their information means more money for someone not brewing the beer.

The Alabama Brewers Guild released a letter on its website, directed at the ABC Board on August 11. Dated August 9, in terms of the disputed proposed law, the ABG stated why it was against it and gave alternate ways to help enforce the 288-ounce limit.

Those included having the ABC make the licensee responsible for taking “reasonable measures” to prevent customers from making purchases of more than 288 ounces of beer per day; a periodic audit and review of daily receipts; notices at cash registers indicating the limit of purchase; or using undercover officers to verify compliance.

All seem more sensible, and business friendly, for the ABC to consider.

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