The overflowing popularity of nanobreweries across the country has not left Alabama untouched.
But our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers know that these entrepreneurs must be exceedingly cautious in our state, which is peppered with both wet and dry counties, overseen by the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s Enforcement Division under Title 28 Code of Alabama 1975. The agency has 133 agents spread out over 11 districts.
Making your own brew is not illegal, provided you have the proper permits and are within a wet county. However, if you are in a dry county and venture into making liquor, your operation would then be considered a still, in which case you could be charged with a felony.
That’s what recently happened to a homebrewer in Blount County, just north of Birmingham.
The defendant was arrested back in 2010 on a charge of felony possession of a still in a dry county, per Code of Alabama 28-4-50.
The defendant, who is now the head brewer of a Montgomery commercial brewing firm, was arrested three years ago after authorities accused him of running an illegal still by producing whiskey and a drink called “white lightning” at his home.
However, it appears the case against him may have been rather weak, as evidenced by the fact that he eventually ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor possession of alcohol in a dry county.
The charges were first filed after the defendant’s home was searched following a minor marijuana possession charge – a rather odd move, though officers contended that they “had information” that more marijuana might be at the location.
They didn’t find more marijuana, but they did, allegedly, find a still.
A reporter interviewing the prosecutor following the case’s recent adjudication reported that while the police list of items taken from the property includes a “still,” the components of that are not described in any detail, and the prosecutor declined to show the reporter pictures of it.
In addition to that item, the log lists containers of “whiskey or beer.” There was also a listing of corn sugar as an ingredient. True that this ingredient is often used in home still operations. However, it’s also used sometimes in the brewing of beer as well.
The prosecutor said the only reason she agreed to the defendant’s plea to a lesser charge was that she was dealing with a back log of more serious cases. Our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers don’t buy it.
The defendant later told the reporter that his home was exclusively set up for a home brewery. The only liquor he was aware of existing at his home was a bottle of rum purchased by his wife while overseas.
He conceded that certain equipment may appear to be for still use – but only to an untrained eye. For example, the set up the officers seized included the use of two heat exchangers, which are essentially copper coils that are used to manage the liquid temperature at various stages in the process. They look similar to something known as “distillation worm” used in the production of liquor, he said, but they are actually quite different.
Yet, the law doesn’t technically distinguish from beer and liquor. What it says is that it is unlawful for a person to have in their possession any still, apparatus, appliance or device used for the purposes of making any prohibited liquors or beverages.
If he were to have been arrested for the same offense in a wet county, he likely would only have faced a misdemeanor from the start.
Yet for all that, authorities seized about $8,000 worth of equipment – which was not returned – and he still has a conviction, though fortunately, not a felony.