State regulators bar Mellow Mushroom beer clubs
by Ben_Cunningham
 The Bitter End - by Ben Cunningham
Dec 01, 2012 | 23167 views |  0 comments | 48 48 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
An image from the Mellow Mushroom beer clubs' website.
An image from the Mellow Mushroom beer clubs' website.

Fans of Mellow Mushroom’s beer menu have lost an outlet to express their enthusiasm, at least in Alabama.

The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board recently informed the Atlanta-based pizza chain that its beer clubs program goes against state rules governing the sale of alcohol.

David Peacock, an ABC Board attorney, said the program ran counter to a rule that says retailers “cannot have any kind of inducement to encourage on-premise alcohol consumption.”

Mellow Mushroom’s 148 franchises in 17 states, mostly in the Southeast, are known for offering a wide selection of beer, especially craft brands. That’s true also at its 14 Alabama locations. (A 15th is planned for Decatur, according to the company’s website.)

A representative at Mellow Mushroom’s Atlanta headquarters declined to comment for this story.

The clubs have different guidelines at each location, but typically offer T shirts, mugs, and recognition on a plaque for customers who register and order a certain number of the varieties of beer offered.

Terry Phillis Sr., general manager of the chain’s Oxford franchise, said word came down from the corporate office to end the program “three or four weeks ago” after it had run for about two years.

Customers in the Oxford beer club were promised souvenir mugs and the inclusion of their names on a board at the restaurant for trying 45 of the 125 beers on the menu.

Phillis said he didn’t think the program encouraged customers to drink any more beer than they would have otherwise, but instead to try something different.

“It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it,” he said of the ABC Board rule.

Peacock said the rule barring the clubs is in Alabama Administrative Code, Section 20-X-6-.12. That section prohibits retailers from offering “anything of value as a premium or  present, to induce the purchase of such alcoholic beverages, or for any other purpose whatsoever in connection with the sale of such alcoholic beverages.”

“That regulation is pretty specific,” Peacock said.

Phillis said customers in Oxford have been upset by the move, but have directed their ire at regulators rather than Mellow Mushroom.

“They’re all very disappointed,” he said. He said he had no quarrel with ABC Board employees enforcing the rule, who he said have been helpful in training restaurant staff to serve alcohol responsibly.   

“We’re definitely not trying to entice people to drink more than they should,” Phillis said. “We  take great care.”

Seen any big stuff?
by Ben_Cunningham
 The Bitter End - by Ben Cunningham
Nov 26, 2012 | 1808 views |  0 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
OK, Calhoun County beer fans, I need a little help here. I'm working on a piece about the larger-size bottles that became legal in Alabama back on Aug. 1, and I need to know what you've seen for sale in our area. I know I've seen Back 40's Freckle Belly IPA and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in 22-ounce bottles at the Grub Mart in Jacksonville. I also spotted one of the Rogue varieties at the new Chevron at the Oxford Exchange back in October, but when I returned this weekend it was gone.

What's on offer at your favorite bottle stop? Leave me a comment below, or email me at
Is Anniston “Beer City, Alabama?”
by Ben_Cunningham
 The Bitter End - by Ben Cunningham
Sep 27, 2012 | 4101 views |  0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

After I posted the news about plans for a brewpub in downtown Anniston, the folks at Huntsville’s Yellowhammer Brewing wondered on Twitter whether the Model City could make a case for a different nickname.
Calhoun County’s existing brewpub, Patriot Joe’s at Heroes, is actually in Weaver, but the Yellowhammer folks allowed that it’d be fair to award the title based on breweries in a metro area (especially since, if Huntsville is to contend for the title, they’ll want to count Blue Pants Brewing, which is in Madison, as they noted).

That got me thinking that it wouldn’t be very hard to settle the matter. Yellowhammer obviously is giving the Anniston area credit for multiple breweries despite having a much smaller population than the Rocket City. Counting breweries per capita does, in fact seem a fair way to go.

The Brewers Association tracks the breweries per capita numbers for each state and the District of Columbia; Vermont’s got the most, with 26,073 residents per each brewery in the state, followed by Oregon, Colorado, Montana and Maine. Alabama ranked 50th in 2011, followed by dead-last Mississippi, though we have added several breweries since they counted.

So what’s the beer capital of Alabama? That’s pretty easy to figure out. First, a little methodology: I used the Census Bureau’s 2011 population estimates for Alabama’s metropolitan statistical areas. (Wait, what’s an MSA? These areas are defined by the federal government for statistical purposes. They each have a “core urban area” of at least 50,000 residents. The Anniston-Oxford MSA is basically just Calhoun County, with 117,797 residents.) Next, what counts as a brewery? Some of Alabama’s smaller breweries don’t actually have facilities of their own, and rent time and space from their fellow brewers. But most of these contract brewers do have an identifiable hometown where their sales are concentrated. Based on breweries that I know are actually making and selling beer in Alabama right now, here’s how the cities stack up:

1. Gadsden, 1 brewery, population 104,303 = 104,303 people per brewer
Back Forty
2. Huntsville, 4 breweries, population 425,480 = 106,370 p.p.b.
Blue Pants, Old Black Bear, Straight to Ale, Yellowhammer
3. Anniston-Oxford, 1 brewery, population 117,797 = 117,797 p.p.b.
Patriot Joe’s/Heroes
4. Birmingham-Hoover, 4 breweries, population 1,132,264 = 283,066 p.p.b.
Avondale, Beer Engineers, Cahaba, Good People
5. Montgomery, 1 brewery, population 378,608 = 378,608 p.p.b.

Gadsden gets the crown, but Yellowhammer’s question was whether two brewpubs would make Anniston the state’s beer headquarters. It seems that if you’re going to count Cheaha Brewing, which still has a long way to go, you’ve got to count other breweries still in the planning stages. Some in the state apparently will open within a few days. So, adding to the list every planned Alabama brewery that has been publicly announced (that I’ve heard of), here are the rankings (not-yet-open breweries are listed beneath the cities):

1. Anniston-Oxford, 2 breweries, population 117,797 = 58,898.5 p.p.b.
2. Huntsville, 6 breweries, population 425,480 = 70,913.33 p.p.b.
(Salty Nutt, Below the Radar (restaurant open, net yet serving their own beer))
3. Gadsden, 1 brewery, population 104,303 = 104,303 p.p.b.
4. Columbus, Ga., 2 breweries, population 301,439 = 150,719.5 p.p.b.
(Phenix City, where Chattahoochee Brewing hopes to open soon, is in the Columbus MSA, where Cannon Brewpub is already open)
5. Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, 1 brewery, population 186,717 = 186,717 p.p.b.
(Fairhope Brewing. This is actually a micropolitan statistical area, which would require even more explanation, so I’ll skip it.)
6. Tusclaoosa, 1 brewery, population 221,553 = 221,553 p.p.b.
(Druid City)
7. Birmingham-Hoover, 4 breweries, population 1,132,264 = 283,066 p.p.b.
8. Montgomery, 1 brewery, population 378,608 = 378,608 p.p.b.
9. Mobile, 1 brewery, population 412,577 = 412,577 p.p.b.
(Middle Bay)

So, when Cheaha Brewing finally pours its first pint over on Walnut Street, Anniston could have a legitimate claim as the capital city of Alabama beer. What do you think? Is there a better way to rank Alabama’s beer cities? Have I missed anyone out there? Leave a comment below.

Click here to read more from The Bitter End.
New brewpub in the works for Anniston
by Ben_Cunningham
 The Bitter End - by Ben Cunningham
Sep 25, 2012 | 3261 views |  0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Calhoun County already is home to the first Alabama brewpub to open since the Brewery Modernization Act of 2011. Soon it may boast two.

Cheaha Brewing Company asked the Anniston Planning Commission last week for zoning approval needed to open a restaurant and brewery at the site of the former Louisville & Nashville rail depot downtown, on Walnut Avenue.

Rodney Snider, who’s leading the effort to launch the downtown brewpub, didn’t want to say much more than that on the phone today. But he said the company expects to make announcements about its plans very soon.

The Planning Commission on Tuesday approved Cheaha Brewing’s request for conditional use of the site, which is zoned for light manufacturing. The depot dates to Anniston’s earliest days, opening in 1883, according to The Star’s archives. In 1996 Anniston architect Julian Jenkins and his wife Anita Jenkins renovated part of the space into a restaurant called Le Mama’s; that eatery was closed by 2002, according to old Star stories. County tax records available online show that Anniston developer Earlon McWhorter acquired the property in 2001.

Cheaha has for some time been a member of the Alabama Brewers Guild, a trade group for the state’s young but growing industry of independent brewers. Craft brewing at production breweries has grown immensely since Alabama began relaxing its beer laws in 2009. Brewpubs are beginning to take off, as well.

In July, Heroes, an existing restaurant in Weaver, began serving Patriot Joe’s Ales, brewed on-site by Jacksonville resident Joe Donahue. (Here's a story I wrote about Patriot Joe's.) That operation was at the time Alabama’s only operating brewpub, the first to open since Alabama changed its laws governing brewpubs in 2011. More brewpubs are in the works in Huntsville, Montgomery, Fairhope, Phenix City and Tuscaloosa.

Edit: I should give The Star's Anniston City Hall beat writer, Laura Camper, a big thanks for tipping me to this development.

Click here to read more from The Bitter End.
Hop City says it's got ABC's OK to open
by Ben_Cunningham
 The Bitter End - by Ben Cunningham
Sep 24, 2012 | 1729 views |  0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Hop City, the new Birmingham store that ran afoul of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control board last week for stocking homrewing supplies, says it now has the ABC's OK to sell beer and wine.

Hop City owner Kraig Torres tweeted the news earlier today.

Here's my post from Friday about Hop City's difficulty: ABC bottles up Hop City's homebrew plans

Click here to read more from The Bitter End. 

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