22 April 2008

Sweet Home Alabama?

Recently, Alabama and Utah came into the spotlights as two of five states that make it illegal to home brew beer. Both states had bills before their respective legislatures that would have legalized the hobby. Both legislatures tabled the bills, killing them for their respective sessions.

On Monday April 14 posting at the AHA Tech Talk board Gary Oberman revealed that he had been featured, by name, in an LA Times article about the bill and had his photo taken at his local homebrew club meeting. Gary wrote:

Today when I got home from work, there was a handwritten note stuck to my mailbox from an actual Alabama ABC Agent. Let me back up a bit for those who do not know me. My name is Scott Oberman. Some of you may have seen my pic and read the article in the LA Times or other media. I agreed to allow an LA Times reporter into my home to attend our homebrew club meeting. This was at the request (not directly) of FTH {Free the Hops] folks in hopes that we had something going on while she was in town. I gladly agreed to this thinking it would be great publicity for FTH and the homebrewing legalization efforts. I am a member of the Rocket City Brewers in the HSV area. I have been homebrewing for 11 years. I am a hardcore homebrewer.

The note said:
"To the Oberman's,
Please call me at

256-726-[xxxx]
256-261-[xxxx]

Sorry I don't have a card to leave you.

Agent Rob xxxx (not positive of last name spelling)
Alabama ABC Board
At first I figured one of my brewing buds sure went a long way just to mess with me. I called the number just in case. It was legit. I was told by the agent that the Montgomery office instructed him to pay me a visit and ensure that I was fully aware of the AL code concerning making beer in the home. He asked if he could come over to talk to me. I asked if there was a website that I could download from and save him a trip. He said that he had to have me sign for the information to verify I received it. I asked if I could just come to his office and meet him and sign for it there and he agreed. I will try to get a better feel for the direction this is leading, but I am not feeling good about it. My situation is extra shaky because I am divorced and have joint custody of my 11 year old daughter. I also have a job with the DoD that requires a security clearance. You may think I was a dumbass for allowing my name, etc to be published in the article. I did not know the article was going to have full names printed nor did I know the tone it would be presented in. I did not get to read it before it was printed. I should have asked. At this point, I am very close to the decision to completely give up the best hobby in the world until such time that it is no longer illegal here in AL. This is a decision that I have not taken lightly, but my family has to come first. This is the real thing. This is a sad day for homebrewing. I urge you all to do whatever you can to get this thru the 2008 legislation. Your voices CAN be heard and CAN make a difference.

Scott Oberman
[I have removed the ABC address, otherwise the text above is a direct cut and paste.]

The Montgomery Advertiser recently published a story about John Little who is also a criminal under Alabama state law. In that story, is this passage:

In more than a decade no organized attempt had been made to enforce the law on Alabama’s books. Little said there was one case in which the home of a home brewer was robbed, and the rural sheriff investigating confiscated the brewer’s equipment. But that’s the only case of home enforcement Little said he has heard of.
That is until they started trying to change the law.
The Los Angeles Times did a story on Free the Hops, Alabama’s outmoded beer law and a Huntsville brewer.
Just last week a representative from Alabama’s Alcohol Beverage Control Board visited the Huntsville brewer, to warn him to stop unless he wants to face prosecution.
“If there is a crackdown because of the publicity we’ve helped create to try and change the law, it will be a nightmare for some very respectable people,” Little said.

I just sent the following email to the Alabama Bureau of Tourism:

Hello,

I am a card carrying member of the American Home Brewers Association and live in Texas. Through the AHA, I learned of a visit by the ABC to a fellow brewer in Alabama. This brewer had been named in an LA Time article on the "Free the Hops" movement in Aalabama. According to a news story recently published in the Montgomery Advertiser, my fellow AHA member was told that he had to stop brewing or face prosecution.

Since the hobby I also participate in is illegal in Alabama, I too am a criminal there, although I have never brewed there. Naturally, concerned for my safe passage through your state, I will no longer travel to or through Alabama where I have an option. Should I ever find myself in Alabama, I will spend as little money as possible in Alabama. Instead, I'll travel through Tennessee, where I do not risk arrest.

I have visited Alabama several times and have always found the citizens to be among the friendliest folks on the planet. Maybe someday I will be able to visit again.

Their email address is: info@tourism.alabama.gov

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posted by Jeff Holt at 08:21

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