Thursday, February 7, 2008

Yesterday's column

Here's yesterday's column. Sorry it's getting up here a day late - I was out yesterday with the funk that's going around, and barely switched on my computer at home. (Note: Flying Dog's Road Dog Porter with a hot bowl of potato soup and a grilled Swiss cheese sandwich is a great pick-up when you're feeling low).

Pitcher This: Another round of battle over beer laws

Advocates for getting better beer into Alabama aren't letting last year's defeat keep them from trying again.

Free the Hops, a grassroots group dedicated to reforming state laws restricting the sale of beer, has once again introduced a bill to raise the amount of alcohol allowed in beer sold here. The Legislature opened its 2008 session Tuesday.

A similar bill made it out of committee in the House last year, but died in the Senate because there wasn't enough support to bring it up for a vote. It never came up in the Senate — like just about every other measure that died, which was most of them — because legislators there were too busy fighting amongst themselves for control of the chamber. Remember the punch that ended last year's session? (And those guys were sober - reportedly).

While last year's bill never got a chance to measure its support in either chamber, Stuart Carter, Free the Hops' president, has hopes he'll be able to toast the Legislature's close with the kind of carefully crafted, critically acclaimed but currently illegal beers he loves. He said the group made progress convincing lawmakers last year.

"Some legislators knew all the beers" available at a special tasting session the group hosted in Montgomery, Carter said. "A lot had never heard of them; they didn't know such things were possible."

Much of the resistance to changing the law appears to come from misinformation, miscommunication or outright disregard for the truth.

Opponents seem to imagine juiced-up rednecks driving the roads, guzzling higher-alcohol versions of the watery brews they think of as beer — the kind that comes in 12- or 24-packs of aluminum cans and bears a striking resemblance to tap water dosed with a drop of yellow food coloring.

Worse yet, they imagine juiced-up teenagers doing the same thing, winding wheels-up in a ditch.

The truth is, the beers Carter and the Free the Hops folks are after aren't likely to wind up rattling around in the bed of anyone�s pickup en route to a night of drunken mischief. They're looking for fine, full-flavored and pretty darn expensive beverages from tiny craft brewers across the U.S. and around the globe.

You're not going to catch your local ne'er-do-well or mischievous high-schooler chugging this stuff just like you won�t find them guzzling bottles of imported French wine. It's expensive, it's an acquired taste, and even when it's legal it's likely not going to be on the shelf at your local quick-rip. (The law, by the way, would allow the same alcohol in beer as is in wine sold here.)

"We're talking about the Mercedes of beers, here," Carter said. "The situation we're in now, you can get just about any Ford or GM, some of the Hondas, some of the Toyotas. That's nice, but we're all adults here."

If Carter and company are successful this time around, there'll be a lot more interesting beer to test drive in Alabama.