- Associated Press - Saturday, May 28, 2016

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - How about a beer to go?

Alabama’s growing craft beer industry will take another step toward the big time Wednesday as a new law takes effect allowing the state’s 25 or so craft breweries to sell six packs, large bottles and other containers of beer directly to consumers. Previously, Alabama was the only state that banned such sales.

The head of the Alabama Brewers Guild said the change, which is coming about because of a law passed this year by legislators and signed by Gov. Robert Bentley, could help stoke further expansion of the state’s brewing industry.

“It’s a big move forward,” said Dan Roberts, executive director of the trade organization.

Different companies plan to sell different types of containers, Roberts said, and in July brewers and traditional retailers will gather to address concerns from stores worried about losing business to breweries, which are scattered in cities large and small from the coast to the Tennessee Valley.

Alabama brewers have been selling beer in retail stores through distributors for several years, but they could only sell draft beer by the glass to customers who visited a brewery.

The change will provide an immediate boost for brewing companies that will be able to sell beer directly to consumers without paying distribution costs.

“Alabama was the only state that had an absolute prohibition, that there was no way you could leave a brewery with a beer,” Roberts said. “In most states you can take beer from a brewery. It’s just not a question.”

Local craft brewers began popping up in many parts of the nation in the 1980s and ‘90s, but Alabama was all but left out because of strict alcohol laws that dated to Prohibition and church-based opposition to alcohol. A brewing industry took root in the state after legislators passed a law in 2009 that allowed higher-alcohol beers, which are typical for craft breweries.

Today, the Brewers Guild estimates as many as 300 people work in Alabama-based breweries or brewpubs. An economic analysis produced for the trade group by Jacksonville State University estimated that total employment could increase by 655 jobs within five years under the new law, with an additional economic output of more than $100 million.

Some breweries plan to open at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday to mark the change in the law, while others are planning events or promotions later in the day. While Alabama’s craft beer industry trails much of the nation, Roberts said the law will help.

“We’re going to catch up faster to the rest of the country,” he said.

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