The History of AlaBev
1907 – Birmingham Beverage is founded
Birmingham Beverage Company was formed and opened as a manufacturer of alcohol free beverages. (BBC Incorporation Documentation – April 1907.)
1908 – Wet, Dry, Wet
On October 28, 1907, Jefferson County voted to go dry, effective January 1, 1908.
The Twenty-First Amendment to the United States constitution was passed on February 21, 1933, and in 1937, statewide prohibition ended with Jefferson County thereafter voting wet. The 21st Amendment paved the way for the Three Tier System of alcohol manufacturing, distribution and retail.
1937 – Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company
It was because of prohibition and it’s subsequent repeal that Birmingham Beverage Company got it’s start in the alcohol beverage distribution business with the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company as it’s primary supplier in 1937.
1938 – The Founders Sell
By 1938, time had run its course for the founders of Birmingham Beverage Company, the future AlaBev, and the company was sold to the Cohen family.
1944 – Future owner of Birmingham Beverage Working For Competition
Returning from service in World War Two, Naval Officer Sergei Kampakis works for his Uncle Sam Nakos in Birmingham, Alabama. Uncle Sam is the owner of a beer distribution business selling popular beer brands like Cooks, Sterling, Pabst and Falstaff.
1957 – Second Owners Sell
The Cohen family put Birmingham Beverage up for sale.
Kampakis Family Purchases Birmingham Beverage
In 1957, Sergei Kampakis was approved and appointed by the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company as their distributor headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama. An accompanying announcement was made in the local newspapers.
1965 – Anniston & Gadsden
More sales territory is added including Anniston & Gadsden.
1973 – Schlitz is one of the Largest Selling Beers In Alabama
1974 – Schlitz Brewing and Advertising Disasters and Sales Declines
To cut costs, the brewery makes a disastrous change to the recipe for Schlitz beer that was designed to shorten brewing time from 12 days to 4. They began using corn syrup instead of barley malt. This results in quality issues in the form of visible protein strings and cloudiness. The brewery was slow to react and Schlitz beer sales fall. To combat declining sales, Schlitz begins an aggressive discounting program causing people to think of it as cheap beer and sales dropped more. In a panic, they changed their ad campaign to “There’s just one word for Beer: Schlitz! And you know it!”
1976 – Inner Circle Award
Despite the problems, Schlitz is still a global player and has an especially high market share in the southeastern United States. Birmingham Beverage is inducted into the Inner Circle. This is the highest Sales and Operational Recognition the brewery has.
1979 – Tuscaloosa
The city of Tuscaloosa and surrounding counties are added.
1978 – Stroh’s Beer
Stroh’s Fire Brewed Beer sales started off as the largest introduction of any beer brand in the state of Alabama to date.
1980 – Imported Beer
Our first imported beer, Beck’s Bier from Bremen, Germany is introduced. We sold 300 cases the first year! Moosehead, Skol, Oranjeboom, Harp, Mackeson Stout, Whitbread, Fuller's, Anchor, Samuel Smith's and others quickly follow.
1983 – Coors Beer
In February of 1983, with Bill and Joe Coors in attendance along with Mayor Arrington of Birmingham and other officials, the first legal Coors Banquet beer in Alabama was poured by Bill Coors in Birmingham. Coors beer was now for sale in Alabama.
1990 – Northern Alabama Territorial Expansion
Cities of Huntsville, Decatur, Florence, Scottsboro and surrounding counties are added.
1990 – Cider
Woodchuck Cider is launched.
Not limited to the 5% abv restriction in the state of Alabama, a variety of imported beer is added to the portfolio for exclusive sale to the various military bases across the state. This primes the portfolio for future, higher abv beer for the general market. Birmingham Beverage was the only distributor to develop a broad military portfolio before the new abv law was passed.
1998 – Wine
In 1998 our wine division, Grand Cru Wine Merchants, is formed and Birmingham Beverage adds wine to the product lineup.
1998 – Alcohol Free Beverages
Birmingham Beverage adds Fiji Water, Welches Juice, Monster Energy, Vitamin Water and other alcohol free beverages into the portfolio.
1998 – Craft Beer – Domestic & International
Keeping an eye on the trends and craft hotspots, key brand acquisitions continued to be made. San Francisco’s Anchor Brewery was added as well as the beer from Abita, Pete’s Wicked Brewery, Rogue, Sweetwater, Samuel Smith’s, Lindeman’s, Orval and others. The first local craft beer is added with the introduction of the beer from Birmingham’s own Southside Cellar Brewery. Owner Horace Miller and brewmaster John Kater were pioneers in Alabama’s post-prohibition brewery chronicles.
1999 – Sale of Brands
After the death of Sergei Kampakis, management and operational issues for the northern Alabama territory under our umbrella resulted in a buyout of the operating minority partner and a sale of some brands. Key craft and imported brands were retained and sub-distributed through the acquiring company.
2000 – Domestic & Imported Craft Beer Expansion
Partnerships with key craft beer importers such as Vanberg & Dewulf, Ommegang, Merchant du Vin, Wetten Imports and others were expanded, mostly through military sales.
2005 – Free The Hops
A fortuitous meeting takes place between Birmingham Beverage owner Harry Kampakis and Danner Klein, eventual founder of the grassroots organization Free The Hops. Their goals were the same and plans were made to organize Free The Hops by Danner and associates and major support was committed by Harry Kampakis.
Mr. Kampakis arranges a meeting with then Governor Bob Riley of Alabama to determine if he would oppose a new bill allowing higher strength alcohol for sale in Alabama. Danner Klein attends. The Governor hosted the two for lunch and listened to them explain 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 fundraise enough to take over.
Not one, but two statewide boycotts are called by Free The Hops against Budweiser products as the local distributor is the most vociferous opponent of the movement.
2008 – Good People Brewing
On July 4th, 2008, Birmingham Beverage purchases the first kegs of beer from the Good People Brewery.
Local breweries like Avondale, Straight To Ale, Yellowhammer and Blue Pants were added. Domestic craft brands such as Left Hand, Bells, Founders, Lagunitas, Cigar City and others were added to the portfolio.
2009 – Gourmet Beer Bill (May 22)
Free The Hops, and Founder Danner Klein and then President Stuart Carter, are victorious. Legislation is passed allowing beer up to 13% abv to be sold in Alabama. Birmingham Beverage (the future 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.
2011 – Food
Specialty, cross-promotional food items that complement our beverage portfolio are added.
2011 – Brewery Modernization Act (June 9)
Free The Hops sponsors and passes the Brewery Modernization Act, reducing restrictions and allowing for expanded brewery sales.
2012 – Gourmet Bottle Bill (May 16)
Free The Hops then sponsors and succeeds in passing legislation allowing larger container sizes for beer up to and including 750ml.
2012 – North and South
Led by the growth of domestic and imported brands from our Craft Division in Birmingham as well as brands from Coors and Modelo, Birmingham Beverage expanded our DSD service to the northern counties of Alabama. Southern Alabama territory was added servicing the cities of Montgomery, Auburn, Tuscaloosa and surrounding counties. The growth, anchored by a portfolio of domestic craft and local breweries, has been spectacular. We now have a refrigerated and climate controlled location in Huntsville and will soon open one in our southern territory.
2014 – AlaBev – Global in Reach – Local in Focus
In 2014, Birmingham Beverage started doing business as AlaBev, the name of our craft beer division. This move better represents our market footprint and our dedication to the residents of the state of Alabama. Our wine division, Grand Cru Wine Merchants, remains unchanged.
Fourth generation on staff
With the fourth generation of family proudly on staff, we are looking forward to many more years as Alabama’s best beverage importer and distributor. The company has evolved from a manufacturer of alcohol free beverages to an importer and distributor of a variety of beverages built around a core beer business. Our industry is extremely competitive yet still quite a bit of fun. The industry has a strong philanthropic track record as well as providing many people a fine lifestyle and stability to raise a family around. Beer industry people are, for the most part, people you would not mind having as a friend or neighbor. Thankfully, four generations in and we continue to thrive, grateful for the many employees and customers we call friends.