Where Alabama lags way behind is in the small-business end of the industry, but that may be changing.
Since the passage in the state Legislature of the so-called “Free the Hops” bill in 2009, and subsequent bills that followed, Alabama has begun to see something of a beer boom. Small breweries have started to make craft beers that are more distinctive in flavor than the national, mass-marketed brands that dominate the industry.
Now the question is being asked: Can these craft brewers in Alabama capture a share of the market like Sam Adams and Anchor Brewing did elsewhere? Those are two successful businesses that have captured a notable chunk of the national market.
Although the volume of beer produced by independent brewers has increased significantly over the years, craft beers in Alabama are just getting started. For example, while craft beers may make up close to 50 percent of the market in Portland, Ore., the independents in Birmingham are holding at about 10 percent.
Important to the success of craft brewers is the willingness of beer drinkers to pay a little more to support a local industry. These beers are home products, and like locally grown foods, their survival depends on local loyalty. (Calhoun County is home to one brewpub, Patriot Joe’s at Heroes in Weaver. Another potential brewpub is in the planning stages at the former Louisville and Nashville train depot in Anniston.)
This is an opportunity for Alabama entrepreneurs to start businesses that promise to grow. The “Free the Hops” campaign has successfully opened the door for the craft beer business. Local investors now need to seize the opportunity and step up.