Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) filed legislation last week allowing spirit-based, ready-to-drink cocktails to be sold in grocery and convenience stores in Alabama.

Pre-made, mixed drink beverages are currently taxed as liquor, with distribution limited to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC Board) and retail sales limited to ABC stores and package stores. The bill would cap the allowable alcohol-by-volume (ABV) of the beverages sold in grocery and convenience stores at 8%.

A different bill on the topic stalled at the beginning of the session.

"It's a marketable product that we can move in this state that can generate new dollars for the state. The consumer is seeking and asking for it," Singleton told 1819 News on Thursday. "I just didn't want to give up on this bill. I wanted to make sure that we at least give it an opportunity to have another shot and to bring the players to the table and let's just have some real honest conversations about what they want, and we'll go from there. It may not pass this session, but at least let's have some real honest dialogue about it."

The new bill reduces the max ABV on the products sold in grocery and convenience stores to 8%. Discussions on a task force studying the topic in 2023 mentioned a possible max ABV of 12.5%, which ABC Administrator Curtis Stewart called too high.

"There are some wines out there with higher ABVs than this product and we've been selling them for years and years and years," Singleton said. "I just think the ABC Board is where they are. They're the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, and if they control, then we can have a controlled product just like any other product. Instead of running from it, I think they should be embracing it and saying, 'Hey, this is just another tool in our toolbox that we have to do control with and that's why we're the ABC Board.' While I respect them and want to work with the board and the new director, I'm willing to sit down and meet with them. Let's talk about this and how can we get to the next level. I think it's just been everybody has been talking at each other but nobody has been talking to each other, and I think it's time for us to talk to each other on this bill."

Ellie Taylor, President and CEO of the Alabama Grocers Association, told 1819 News the proposal was about meeting consumer demand.

"We as grocers always want to make sure that we're listening to our consumers and (offering) the selection of products that they want in our stores and we're excited to be able to hopefully offer these products soon," Taylor said.

Stewart said at an ABC Board meeting on Thursday he still had concerns about the bill over the max ABV and taxes on the ready-to-drink beverages.

"To their credit, they did attempt to incorporate some of the things that we'd indicated we'd been concerned about. They did not run it by us to look at first. We do have a couple suggestions on some things that would make it less distasteful for us," Stewart said. "It's possible that bill may go somewhere. I think it's still got some hurdles to climb that I'm not sure they can get over. We're still in a position that we can handle these operations ourselves." 

Stewart continued, "It lowered the tax to 68 cents per can of 12 ounces. Our calculations are that we collect a tax of about 98 cents so the state would lose about a third of the tax on those if the rate is lowered." 

"One thing countering that is they're projecting sales would be so much higher that they'd raise more tax. Sometimes those additional things don't materialize, but on a case-by-case basis we could lose about a third of the tax," Stewart said. "They did lower the alcohol-by-volume content that would be allowable in these products that would go into this wider distribution form the 12.5% percent that was originally discussed last year. They lowered it to 8%. I had said that we would be okay with 7% percent or less, so they didn't quite get to where we suggested they ought to get."

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