February 4th, 2013
02:00 PM ET

The Bible Belt brouhaha over beer

By Tommy Andres, CNN

Editor's Note: Listen to the full story in our player above, and join the conversation in our comments section below.

Montgomery, Alabama (CNN) - Despite the fact that it has been federally legal since 1979, there are still two U.S. states that don't allow residents to make beer in their own homes: Alabama and Mississippi.

The issue is expected to be one of the first to surface in Alabama's state legislature as lawmakers there head back to session this week, and a colorful standoff is likely.

Homebrew laws have failed to materialize for the past five years, with religion and morality arguments narrowly beating out the estimated 5,000 underground homebrewers in the state who say their civil liberties are on the line.

Kraig Torres owns a craft beer store in Birmingham, called Hop City. He learned first-hand that the law against homebrewing is still enforced. Homebrew supplies he planned to sell were confiscated by state authorities the day before he opened in September:

[:45] "I think anyone agrees this is not so much a beer issue as a civil liberties issue. Things you can do commercially for money in the state of Alabama, why can't you do in your kitchen legally? It'd be like saying you can only buy cherry pies at a bakery instead of making them in your kitchen."

Leading the charge against the bill is the Alabama Citizens Action Program, or ALCAP. Its leader, Joe Godfrey, has been lobbying against any law that relaxes alcohol laws in the state:

[4:14] "I've met with some of the homebrewers and they tell me, 'Oh, we're fine upstanding citizens. We go to church, we're active in our community, we don't overindulge, we don't get drunk.' Well, they might not, but I've never met an alcoholic that started out saying, 'I'm going to become an alcoholic.' They start out socially drinking. They start out homebrewing and tasting."

Homebrew laws have previously passed in the Alabama state Senate and House of Representatives respectively the past two years. But not in both. Hobbyists hope this will finally be their year. But it won't be easy, because one thing is for certain: this issue is much bigger than beer.

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soundoff (280 Responses)
  1. crazy believers

    In a country of religous freedom and after living in a dry county in the south I find it crazy you can drink or have bleer or other liquors due to the churches feelings on it. What about my freedom why do I have to live under your church rules sad thing is if you get caught you get possesion of a illegal substance on your record how many employers will bother to check to find out you had a beer. I feel sorry for people living there under church and crocked law inforcement rule

    February 10, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Homebrew Drunkard

    Whatever you need to do to keep your citizens safe, Joe!

    I remember how my addictions began. It was a warm August evening in '97, and I decided I'd like to make my own cupcakes. Certainly no harm could come of making just one batch of cupcakes and sharing some with visitors. Of course I've had cupcakes at other venues before, but the sinful allure of the tantalizing sweet treat was far too great. Since that fateful night in August, when that frosting-covered moist cake touched my lips, my life has become a complete disaster. I've lost my wife, numerous jobs, friends and find myself embarrassed to admit to all the cake and heroin laced bestiality orgies I now host on a near weekly basis. Cupcakes are a gateway, and they've ruined my life.

    February 8, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tom

    That's the problem with religious fundamentalists. They have no concept of the idea of moderation. They think that if you take one drink, you're going to turn into a raging alcoholic. Smoke one joint, and you'll end up addicted to crack. Look at a little porn on the internet, and you'll turn into a raging sex addict. Yet, most people have enough self-control that they are able to indulge without going to the extreme. I make my own wine and I've never ever been an alcoholic and don't forsee myself becoming one in the future. A drink or two in the evening and I'm satisfied.

    It's funny that conservatives are the ones talking about "personal responsibility" and how liberals want a "nanny state," yet they are afraid to legalize homebrewing because they think that some people can't handle drinking a beer.

    February 8, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  4. rb

    I think the arguments about someone "turning into a wino" are moot. Homebrewing isn't really that cheap and easy. It takes patience and effort if you want something worth drinking. It's not something just anyone is going to do just out of the blue. You pretty much need and apprecation for beer/wine to get started in this craft. If a person wanted to be a wino, it would be much cheaper/easier just to buy cheap booze from a local liquor store... For me it's more about the satisfaction of knowing I created something tasty with my own hands, not a product from some multinational multibillion dollar corporation. Of all the analogies used, I think the pie baking example was spot on.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
  5. News to me

    It's illegal in Alabama? Weird, none of my friends who brew there and get all their supplies from local stores know this and I guess neither do the store owners. The taxes on alcohol are so high in Bama that you almost have to brew your own if you want to have beer of consistently high quality without spending way too much. Before I realized it was the taxes I just assumed it cost a lot of money to ship beer back in time (to around 1950 or so, I'd guess).

    February 7, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ariz

      It is legal to sell the ingredients in AL. Technically it is illegal to own equipment to be used to make beer. The problem is that the equipment is pretty generic and has other common legal uses. The store mentioned in the story was the first time anybody that also holds a license to sell alcohol was also attempting to sell home brewing stuff. The other stores aren't licensed by the ABC board so they would have to go get a warrant to seize anything from the other stores and then take them to court. In the case of Hop City, the ABC used the threat of immediate rejection of its alcohol license to force the board's interpretation of the laws.

      February 7, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
      • jhainey

        Let's get one thing straight. This country is not driven by morals, it is driven by money. I can say without any doubt that if one could dig deep enough they'd find money greasing the palms of these politicians whose source is none other than, you guessed it, the commercial brewing industry. Ours is no longer a government of the people, by the people, for the people.....but of the lobbyists, by the greedy, for the money.

        February 11, 2013 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
        • Julia

          You hit the nail on the head ! Follow the money trail and you will find the culprits involved somebody is getting $$$

          February 11, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Scott

    the reason you can't make beer in your house is because they have "Dry Counties". and trust me if you have ever been in the northern part of Alabama you would understand why they have it that way. on a side note have you seen the Discovery show Moonshiners, i think they are making it anyways 🙂

    February 7, 2013 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  7. boysmatter

    Alabama is going to be backwards. Maybe if we tied school funding and modernizing blue laws to football they might actually get it? After all that is the only realm where that state sees any success.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
    • elreyjones

      I believe Alabama has tremendously intelligent people and it is states like California, New York, and Massachusetts who are very backwards. Those yankees and foreigners from those 3 states don't even wash their hands after they take a sh*t. How backwards is that?

      February 9, 2013 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
      • Jack

        Yup, so smart that they exiled the only outside help in the state with enough cojones to pick their crops consistently, efficiently and cheaply. When farmers brought in locals to do the same, they cut and ran after the first little backache; crops went bad, farmers lost a ton of money and the price of produce in the Southeast spiked. Yup, 'Bamans for Bentley the Brilliant, winning combo.

        February 12, 2013 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
  8. Lauren

    What is amazing to me is the priorities of this state. We have children that are not going to school, litter on every highway in the "Alabama the Beautiful" state, roads that need repair and the list goes on. The priorities here are slot machines and home brew – what a combination!

    February 7, 2013 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
    • News to me

      Don't forget about "the illegals!"

      I guess the worst nightmare for an Alabama politician would be to see an illegal immigrant drinking some home-made beer with her girlfriend while playing the slots before going to get an abortion. It's enough to make Aunt Bee clutch her pearls!

      February 7, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jorge

    I'm not surprised that the most teetotalling, bible-thumping states are the ones with the poorest health and academic performance. A British politician once attempted to soil the reputation of Sir Winston Churchill, one of the world's most brilliant, resilient and long-lived statesmen, by claiming that Mr. Churchill had probably consumed enough spirits to fill the hall of Parliament to the rafters. Mr. Churchill responded by procuring a yardstick from another member of Parliament, measuring breadth, length and height of the hall, performing some quick calculations and retorting, "So much to do, so little time..."

    February 7, 2013 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
  10. Ariz

    Finally got around to listening (didn't seem to want to work on the iPad). One minor point: Ricard Laird and Alvin Holmes, the two representatives with the audio clips arguing against home brewing, were identified as one being a Democrat and the other being a Republican. At the time the audio was recorded they were both Democrats. A few days ago Laird announced he was leaving the Democratic Party to serve as an independent. He is not joining the Republican party.

    BTW, look up "Alvin Holmes on Beer" on youtube. Don't blame me when you spit your drink on your monitor.

    February 6, 2013 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
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