AlaBev's History with Free The Hops, Gourmet Beer Bill & Other Legislative Issues
Alabama Legislature, 2005 – “Whats wrong with the beer we got? I mean, the beer we got drink pretty good, don’t it?” – Rep. Alvin Holmes of Montgomery
A homemade pamphlet is brought to Birmingham Beverage (the future AlaBev) owner Harry Kampakis by a salesmen detailing the current efforts of Danner Klein and friends to inform, publicize and change the restrictive beer laws in Alabama. Kampakis is excited because he had been pushing for similar objectives at the statewide beer distributor organization for years with little success. A meeting then takes place between Harry Kampakis and Danner Klein, the soon to be founder of the grassroots organization Free The Hops. Their goals were similar and plans were made to organize Free The Hops by Mr. Klein and associates and major support was committed by Mr. Kampakis.
Other beer distributors in the state had yet to be convinced and were not yet on board. Surprising to many, some of the most vociferous opposition came from certain beer distributors. Not one, but two statewide boycotts were called by Free The Hops against Budweiser products as the local Birmingham distributor Birmingham-Gadsden Budweiser, supported by Anheuser-Busch, comes out as early and shadowy opponents of the movement with deep pockets and a willingness to engage.
Using the hospitality room at Birmingham Beverage Company (now AlaBev), early strategic planning meetings, membership, education drives and fundraisers were organized. Key guidance from individuals like Senator Steve French played their part.
Entreaties to schedule time with traditionally gun-shy politicians wary of the flash-point issue of alcohol in Alabama were proving challenging. All advice pointed to a long, expensive struggle and Mr. Kampakis wanted to know if these efforts would have any chance before Governor Riley, a teetotaler with years left in office. We would have to go around.
With the deft bidding skills of his wife Amy in control at the Service Guild Auction featuring a “Lunch with Governor Riley” as an auction item, the couple comes away with a new mail box for the driveway and the “Lunch with Governor Riley”. Now Mr. Kampakis could determine if the Governor would oppose a bill allowing higher strength alcohol for sale in Alabama or not. Mr. Kampakis asks Danner Klein to attend. The Governor hosted the two in his office for lunch and listened as Kampakis and Klein explained the situation. When finished, Governor Riley said, “Well, I tell you what, you get that legislation to my desk, and, mind you, I don’t believe you can, but if you do, I will not oppose it.”
Mr. Kampakis arranges for lobbyist and childhood friend Michael Sullivan to represent the now formed Free The Hops Organization. Danner Klein is the first President. Mr. Kampakis pays the lobbyist’ bill until the organization can fund-raise enough to take over.
It was an informative and a kind of wild ride through the Alabama legislative process with many unexpected and often humorous turns along the way.
May 22, 2009 – Gourmet Beer Bill
The Free The Hops organization, with Founder Danner Klein and then President Stuart Carter, is victorious. Legislation is passed allowing beer up to 13% abv to be sold in Alabama. Birmingham Beverage/AlaBev is the only distributor in the state to have higher abv inventory in stock and was able to “hit the streets” weeks ahead of competition. Other “Pro Beer” legislation addressing antiquated brewery laws and container size legislation would also eventually pass as a result of the efforts of Free The Hops and others.