MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — With Mississippi legalizing home brewing, Alabama is now the only state that doesn't allow citizens to craft small amounts of beer or wine at home for their own use.
Home-brewing enthusiasts have been trying since 2009 to get the Alabama Legislature to legalize what several thousand people are already doing illegally. But they have always met with strong opposition.
"There is always a concern by lawmakers about voting in favor of alcohol bills," said Brant Warren of Huntsville, a member of Right to Brew.
This legislative session might be different. A bill by Republican Rep. Mac McCutchen of Capshaw is tentatively scheduled for consideration by the House when lawmakers return from spring break on April 2. McCutcheon got a similar bill approved by the House late in the 2012 session, but it died in the Senate because time was limited. McCutcheon said he's optimistic the House will pass it next week and get it to the Senate with plenty of time for consideration.
"With 49 states and the federal government allowing it, why should we in Alabama restrict a person from pursuing a hobby?" he said.
A church-based group, the Alabama Citizen Action Program, is leading the opposition. Executive Director Joe Godfrey said alcohol is "a mind-altering, addictive drug," and it will be harmful to children to see their parents making alcohol.
"Pre-teens typically get their first taste of alcohol in the home. While a parent may miss a can from a six-pack of beer in the refrigerator, will that parent miss 'swigs' of home-brewed beer taken from gallon jugs stored in the house?" he asked.
Godfrey said the bill is part of an Alabama trend over the last few years to make alcohol more available by approving alcohol sales in more towns, allowing Sunday sales in more cities, and approving the sale of beer with higher alcohol content.
In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant recently signed legislation allowing home brewers to make quite a lot of beer each year_100 gallons for households with one person who is over 21-years-old and 200 gallons if there are two or more people over 21-years-old.
That left Alabama alone in banning home brewing, according to the American Homebrewers Association. It estimates there are 1 million home brewers nationwide, with about 5,000 of them in Alabama. That has happened even though Alabama law prohibits an individual from owning the equipment to make alcohol.
The state's liquor control agency, the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, has cracked down on the retail sale of home brewing equipment, but not on people who do it quietly in their homes. At least eight counties — Mobile, Montgomery, Jefferson, Madison, Tuscaloosa, Lee, Russell and Houston — have home brewing clubs.
ABC Board Director Mac Gipson said he's fine with the legislation because it contains strict limits to make sure people are only doing home brewing as a hobby.
Those limits are making no more than 15 gallons per three-month period. A home brewer could take his beer or wine to tastings and competitions, but couldn't sell it. Convicted felons couldn't participate in home brewing, and no one could do it in parts of the state where alcohol sales are illegal.
If the House and Senate approve the bill, it will be up to Gov. Robert Bentley to decide whether to let it become law. In the last two years, he has permitted new laws allowing the sale of beer in larger containers and encouraging the development of brew pubs and small breweries in Alabama.
Bentley said the home brewing bill is not a concern.
"I don't have any problem with it as long as they are not selling it. But I'm not going to do it because I don't drink," he said.
That gives Warren hope that the legislation may not go flat for the fifth year.
"We are as optimistic as we have ever been," he said.