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Vote 2016: General election, why the hell not?

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016
voting booth

Photo: Phgaillard2001 (CC)

Time to vote: Polls are open till 7 tonight for races at the local, state and national levels.

Vote 2016Q: Where do I vote?

A: Call Jefferson County: (205) 325-5550, Jefferson County (Bessemer only): (205) 481-4105, Shelby County: (205) 669-3913.

Or Search Your Polling Place on AlabamaVotes.gov.

Wade on Birmingham:
election results tonight

Remember, if you have problems at your polling place:

  • Notify a poll worker immediately.
  • Call the state attorney general at 1-800-831-8814 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Wednesday or fill out this online form.
  • Call the secretary of state at 1-800-274-VOTE (8683) or visit his site, StopVoterFraudNow.com.
  • And tell the probate court for Jefferson County (205-325-5203) or Shelby County (205-669-3713).
  • Nationwide: 866-OUR-VOTE (687-8683)
  • E-mail us at Vote2016[at]wadeonbirmingham.com.

Q: What can I expect to see on the ballots?

A: Check out these sample ballots for each county.

You’re voting for president, U.S. Senator and Representative, state and county officials.

Who are you voting for today? Tell us in the comments.

• • •

More Vote 2016 coverage.

Vote 2016: Sample ballots for Jefferson, Shelby County general election

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

We’re pretty sure these are the right ballots.

Vote 2016The State of Alabama reprinted 2.7 million ballots earlier this month after omitting language from one of the 14(!) amendments up for our consideration; Secretary of State John Merrill said he didn’t know what the blunder cost.

Anyway, download your sample ballot for Jefferson or Shelby County for the Nov. 8 general election. Good luck, Jefferson County residents: The 364-page PDF contains 91(!!) versions of the four-page ballot to correspond with various overlaps in federal, state, county and city districts.

Also, check out the Alabama Voter Guide, with voting procedures and frequently asked questions.

For easier viewing, you can print, download or zoom to full screen with each ballot.

• • •

Sample ballots for all 67 counties.

• • •

Jefferson County

Shelby County

Alabama Voter Guide 2016

• • •

More Vote 2016 coverage.

Vote 2016: Alabama primary election runoff results

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Today’s runoff results from state and metro Birmingham races … (Primary results from March 1.)

Vote 2016More election coverage in our Vote 2016 special report.

The general election takes place Nov. 8.



Voter turnout (estimated):

  • Alabama: 5 percent
  • Jefferson County: 3 percent
  • Shelby County: 6 percent

All races

Winner in red

• • •

More Vote 2016 coverage.

Vote 2016: Sample ballots for Jefferson, Shelby County primary runoffs

Friday, April 8th, 2016

A handful of voters will visit the polls next week to decide the runoff races in Alabama. Some districts — but not all — in the 41 counties holding runoff elections will have contests.

Vote 2012Sample ballots for Jefferson and Shelby Counties are included below. Birmingham Watch has a guide to the remaining candidates in Birmingham-area races.

For easier viewing, you can download or zoom to full screen with the embedded Jefferson County Democratic runoff ballot.

Polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

• • •

Find your polling place and districts.

• • •

Sample ballots for other counties with runoffs.

• • •

Jefferson County: Democratic ballot

Jefferson County: Republican ballot

Jefferson County 2016 Republican runoff sample ballot

Shelby County: Republican ballot

Shelby County 2016 Republican runoff sample ballot

• • •

More Vote 2016 coverage.

Vote 2016: Alabama primary election results

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Alabama 2016 presidential primary chart

Chart: Alabama presidential primary 2016

Election results from today’s primaries in Alabama and the Birmingham metro area …

Vote 2016More election coverage in our Vote 2016 special report.

(Updating throughout the evening.)

The runoff takes place April 12.


Voter turnout:

  • Alabama: 41 percent
  • Jefferson County: 43 percent
  • Shelby County: 50 percent

Results for Jefferson County and Shelby County.


(Contested races only)

Winner in red | Runoff candidates in blue


(Contested races only)

Winner in red | Runoff candidates in blue



This just in on Twitter …


Visit the Birmingham, Ala., page on Facebook.

• • •

More Vote 2016 coverage.

Vote 2016: Alabama v. Apathy: Dawn of Super Tuesday

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

American flag, by James Willamor

Photo: James Willamor (CC)

Look at Alabama, the early bird getting the political worm all thanks to today’s primary. Twelve other states and American Samoa are participating in Super Tuesday, a k a the SEC Primary.

Vote 2016The polls are open: Voting takes place till 7 p.m. for candidate in national, state and local races.

Q: Where do I vote?

A: Call Jefferson County: (205) 325-5550, Jefferson County (Bessemer only): (205) 481-4105, Shelby County: (205) 669-3913.

Or Search Your Polling Place on AlabamaVotes.gov.

Wade on Birmingham:
primary election results tonight

Remember, if you have problems at your polling place:

  • Notify a poll worker immediately.
  • Call the state attorney general at 1-800-831-8814 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Wednesday or fill out this online form.
  • Call the secretary of state at 1-800-274-VOTE (8683) or visit StopVoterFraudNow.com.
  • And tell the probate court for Jefferson County (205-325-5203) or Shelby County (205-669-3713).
  • E-mail us at Vote2016[at]wadeonbirmingham.com.

Q: What can I expect to see on the ballots?

A: Check out these sample ballots for each county.

You’re voting for president, U.S. Senator, state and county officials, plus a statewide amendment.

Let us know where and when you voted, and how many votes were cast before yours.

• • •

More Vote 2016 coverage.

Vote 2016: Sample ballots for Jefferson, Shelby County primaries

Friday, February 12th, 2016

Download general election sample ballots
for Jefferson, Shelby Counties

Voting registration deadline Monday

Alabamians will have a shot at shaping the presidential race for 2016.

Vote 2012With an early SEC Primary on March 1, Alabama will be among 14 states and territories holding elections on Super Tuesday. Also on the ballot, a Senate race, several state and county races and an state amendment.

Citizens still have time to register to vote, either online (for the first time) or by handing in this PDF form. The deadline is 11:59 p.m. Monday for online submission or end of business Monday at the county Board of Registrar offices for hand-delivered forms.

To help you see the full candidate list for your district, we’ve included sample ballots for Jefferson and Shelby Counties for the primaries. (The Jefferson County ballots, 32 pages and 46 pages, include versions for every district.)

Also included is the Alabama Voter Guide, which has information on voting procedures and frequently asked questions.

For easier viewing, you can download or zoom to full screen with each ballot.

Primary elections take place March 1 across the state.

• • •

Find your polling place and districts.

• • •

Sample ballots for all 67 counties.

• • •

Jefferson County: Democratic ballot

Jefferson County: Republican ballot

Shelby County: Democratic ballot

Shelby County: Republican ballot

Alabama Voter Guide 2016

• • •

More Vote 2016 coverage.

Books: Excerpt from Tanner Latham’s ‘Know Thy Farmer’

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

Tanner Latham, Know Thy Farmer

The following chapter is an excerpt from San Francisco author Tanner Latham’s “Know Thy Farmer.” He is a Piedmont native and a content strategist, writer, editor, radio reporter and multimedia storyteller. Latham is also a former Southern Living colleague of mine.

His book profiles 30 Alabama farmers and the food they provide to chefs and restaurants.

In this excerpt, Latham recounts a farm-to-table dinner at Sanctuary Farms.

• • •

Farm Dinner

The guests rolled in slowly in near-idling cars and discovered the bright, mid-afternoon sun bathing warm light over the house, barn and a patchwork layout of heirloom fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs anchoring this little farm. A freshly mown path welcomed them and led their steps through naturally wild lawn grasses. It served as an entre to the evening’s event — a first scent of a seven-course dinner, a true farm to farm table experience. And at the path’s end, awaiting each guest, was the first sip — Peach Cobbler Moonshine cocktails stirred and seasoned with locally made popsicles. There, too, was the first bite — skewers of hushpuppies and fried green Sun Gold tomatoes picked earlier that morning from the vines beside which they now mingled.

Garlic. That was what initially sparked chef Drew Terp’s interest in Milan Davis and Jeannine Freed of Sanctuary Farms. “It was some of the most incredible garlic I had ever seen,” says Drew, who first met the couple at their booth at the Market at Pepper Place. “They had some of the most beautiful produce I’ve ever seen in any restaurant I had ever worked for. I’ve used ginger imported from all over the world, and Sanctuary’s was the most gorgeous I can remember.”

The couple was fairly smitten with Drew as well. “He had this very positive and boisterous presence,” says Jeannine. “His passion for food was contagious, and his personality went along with it.”

The chef visited the farmers at the market each week, buying produce, chatting and slowly, strongly building a relationship. One Saturday morning, Drew offered to volunteer on the farm just to see what the couple was doing and learn more about their process. The farmers obliged, and throughout the summer, he and his girlfriend visited the farm in Etowah County, Ala., and helped clear brush, till, plant seed and harvest.

After working one day, Jeannine and Milan began talking to Drew about their idea of hosting a fall dining event similar to those held among their network of farmers. It was an opportunity for a chef to show off his or her culinary skills at a farm, sourcing most of the ingredients on site.

“We were reaching a point where we had enough food in our garden,” says Jeannine. “We envisioned it more as a celebration of accomplishments of the season and sharing them with those who come and experience it.”

Yet, the farmer couple had never done anything like that before and weren’t sure how to even begin, but they knew they wanted it to be right. Lucky for them, Drew had experience hosting such events, and he willfully partnered with them as an organizer.

“Drew’s obvious passion left us with no doubts that we were going to plan a wonderful experience for everyone who came,” says Jeannine.

The cocktail hour spilled seamlessly into supper, and the guests moved to the barn to seat themselves on wood-topped bales of hay at tables built by Milan from wood he had milled. Above them, string lights and herbs hung from rafters. Around them, used burlap fabrics draped doorways. Before them, flower centerpieces colored the tables. Overhead, the sun was just beginning to set.

As Chef Drew’s team brought out the first course, a charcuterie board with cured meats, local cheeses, a savory okra jam, radish pickles, pickled garlic and local honey, the guests’ eyes widened and lit up, a response repeated with each course presentation throughout the evening.

Then came wrinkled potatoes with Spanish tortillas, a small-bite dish Drew had learned about while traveling through the Canary Islands. After that, mixed greens with seared goat cheese, figs and honey vinaigrette followed by a sweet potato soup with sage farmer’s cheese and brown butter emulsion.

“Everything had a really nice balance. Each course allowed the vegetable to be what it was without covering it up,” says Jeannine.

For the main course, Drew presented a suckling pig with rosemary polenta, glazed baby carrots and wild persimmon pork jus. It had actually been supplied and cooked on site by Will and Liz Doonan of Heron Hollow Farms located in Lacon, Ala.

“We structured the menu so that we would have intricate courses followed by easier courses,” says Drew. “We wanted plenty of time to prepare the more difficult dishes.” With each course, servers poured wine and beer pairings provided by Grassroots Wine from Birmingham and Gadsden-based Back Forty Beer Company. As they placed the plates, the chef stood before the guests and guided them through the dishes, explaining the sources and answering questions.

“It’s my passion,” says Drew. “If you take a plate, and you set it down in front of somebody, they can just taste it and decide if they like it or not. But when you can put something out in front of somebody and tell them a story about it, now they are eating through your eyes and looking at the food through the creator’s vision. They get the story behind the food. It’s so important when people are eating to know there is a background behind the food.”

A big, beautiful pecan tree stood next to the barn, its branches extending far enough that their ends sagged to the ground and created a natural canopy and seating area. With the supper courses finished — the fork-clinking silenced — the guests moved from the table to the tree to watch a bonfire grow into a cozy blaze that popped sparks upward to the dark sky.

Local musicians provided a post-dinner soundtrack, picking and singing folk and bluegrass songs. And for the final taste, the chef’s team served dessert, sea salt caramel popsicles from Gadsden-based Frios Gourmet Pops and Drew’s grandmommy’s recipe pecan pie made from nuts that had fallen from the large tree.

According to Jeannine, watching someone taste the produce she and Milan grows is akin to the moment you feel when you meet your soulmate. “It’s like, ‘Yes! That’s what I’m talking about!'” she says. “When someone gets the whole process, it’s kind of like a camaraderie. There’s a lot of passion in that moment. I think, ‘These are my people!’ Those moments contribute to making it all worth it. We can grow beautiful food, but there has to be someone there who truly enjoys it.”

She says that this event could not have occurred without their “farm community of friends” who willingly helped to make it happen in a passionate and selfless way. Those farmer friends and musicians sat and dined at the tables alongside the guests and added another depth and dimension to the atmosphere.

In a broad sense, Jeannine believes that events like this only occur when people care from where their food comes. Drew agrees, stating that a major problem today is that people lose track of their food sources. “You go to the store or drive-through and you buy food that is packaged, but that’s not real food,” he says. “The realness of an event like this is picking carrots that morning and serving them that night. You take the food right from the farm, make something beautiful and then share it with those around you. That is what is all about.”

These intimate dinners symbolize the best that has come from the farm-to-table movement and from literally knowing your farmer. They display a through-line that connects those who participate. Chefs respect and revere the live produce and even animals that grow just steps away from the diners. And the guests, a table full of strangers sitting elbow to elbow who quickly bond over their commonalities, can directly ask the farmers about their challenges or the chef about his vision for the dishes.

“This was not only the best of a beautiful harvest and a talented chef,” continues Jeannine. “But it was also a gathering where new friendships came together to show love and support among one another.”

Slowly, the guests peel away from the group and the bonfire’s warmth. With bellies full and smiles grand, they turn into the chill of the October evening and follow the same path, now lit by flickering, lighted bags, out to their cars. They occasionally steal a glance over their shoulders to view the glow of the barn and garden. But they have to return. Back to their homes. Back to their families. Back to their lives. Still, they now carry a memory that they’ll recount about a dinner that connected them to the land and to each other.

“This is how a community grows,” says Drew. “One person and story and experience at a time.”

• • •

“Know Thy Farmer” (November 2015, Friends of the Market)

Tanner Latham

To free UAB will require immense financial pressure

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Ray Watts, UAB

UAB president Ray Watts shows where he had his soul
surgically removed. 

Author’s note: In the past, I have worked in my capacity as a communications consultant for the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Dear Free UAB,

Only 21 months till kickoff. Without you, we would have no 2017 season for Blazer football.

Of course, Dr. Ray Watts is still president of UAB, still collecting $853,464 annually for hiding from faculty and students and performing an inept job. It was 1 year ago today that Watts and his bosses in Tuscaloosa killed three sports teams, only to resurrect them 6 months later.

The good news is that you’ve met every athletics funding deadline so far, even the ones that have been moved up in a brazen attempt to discredit you. Now that the University of Alabama System board of trustees has shifted even more of the burden usually assumed by colleges to fans and donors, it can spend even more insane amounts of money on its preferred team in Tuscaloosa.

Speaking of preferred teams, it’s nice to see the rifle team with its 2015-16 schedule intact. Sadly for the bowling team, it has had to go dark till next season (or the season after, maybe). And the on-campus stadium plan may live someday as an off-campus stadium on the BJCC property, safe from the trustees’ spiteful actions.

It’s heartening to see the students and the faculty united in its official lack of confidence in Watts. But to pry him from his cushy expensive president’s chair will take more than chants of “Fire Ray Watts” at basketball games in Bartow Arena.

Much more.

The simplest equation is to make it more expensive to keep Watts than to send him back to medicine full time with an unholy severance package. All across the South, calculators have been working overtime on cost-benefit analyses …

  • Cheaper to keep or fire Les Miles at LSU? Keep, since the PR damage alone was astronomical.
  • Cheaper to keep or fire Mark Richt at Georgia? Fire, though the numbers aren’t looking real solid.
  • Cheaper to keep or fire president Tim Wolfe at Missouri? Fire (technically, resign), because football TV cash.

Watts is an expensive hot mess, but he’s simply not costly enough (yet) to trustees. I had suggested a year ago that UAB supporters oust him and then wrest the university from the UA System for the good of the school and Birmingham.

(If it was always about football and only football, then I guess … mission accomplished? But don’t be surprised when the board takes it away again.)

What does a Ray Watts cost UAB?

  • His salary, $2,338.26 a day (and that’s if he hasn’t received a raise, oy).
  • All those pricey consultants and attorneys.
  • His security detail.
  • His president’s mansion.
  • The new secret biased report to kill football, which we’ll find out about in August 2017.
  • The $1 billion Campaign for UAB, which was on pace to reach the finish line now but has slowed so much, it may be as late as 2019 (or worse).
  • Lost tuition (plus future alumni donations) from plummeting enrollment, down 7.3 percent from fall 2014.

While all of these cost UAB money, the key to is to hit the board where it hurts most: the University of Alabama. The school is on track for another national championship, with the mountains of cash that come with it, so you must be clever and persistent in finding any financial weaknesses.

The Mizzou football team figured it out, using its leverage to force the school to act decisively and quickly on allegations of long-term racist harassment of students. Replacing Wolfe is far easier and cheaper than forfeiting to BYU.

Until you convince enough fans, football recruits, donors (individual and corporate), professors and politicians to abandon Tuscaloosa, you have no leverage. Until you steer away millions of dollars for buildings, players, coaches and research projects, you have no hope.

It may take years/election cycles. It may take scorched earth. It may take a beatdown of every board member’s company. But it can be done.

The fight has to be uglier and hit the trustees where it hurts most, right in the bank account.

Go Blazers,


Video: E.O. Wilson, ant man

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Video: “E.O. Wilson: Of Ants and Men”

A lifetime of studying the natural world has aired on PBS as a 2-hour prime-time documentary. “E.O. Wilson: Of Ants and Men” premiered in September.

The titular subject was born in Birmingham and spent his childhood in Mobile and Washington. He studied at Alabama and later Harvard. His career in science led to the creation of sociobiology, earning him a U.S. National Medal of Science. Wilson has authored many books, which brought him two Pulitzer Prizes.

The program looks at milestones in his life, along with the ways we better understand the world, including the formation and behavior of ant societies, and how humans have much more in common with them than with chimps. Wilson spends time in our state’s rich environment, and even dissects the tribalism behind Alabama (and Auburn) football.

E.O. Wilson

E.O. Wilson in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique,
in a scene from “Of Ants and Men”

Books: Excerpt from Carla Jean Whitley’s ‘Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City’

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015
Carla Jean Whitley, Birmingham Beer

Cheryl Joy Miner

The following chapter is an excerpt from Birmingham author Carla Jean Whitley’s “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” [aff. link]. She is a features reporter at Alabama Media Group, a freelance writer and a journalism instructor at the University of Alabama and Samford University, plus a good friend.

This is her third(!) book in 13 months, and the second to be featured on this site. (Read an excerpt from her book, “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.”) “Birmingham Beer” traces the century-long rise and fall and rise of local brewing.

In this excerpt, Whitley takes us behind the scenes of the real battle, not in Birmingham but in Montgomery …

• • •

Chapter 6, Brewery Modernization Act

Free the Hops initially identified alcohol limit and container size as its top priorities. After the success of the Gourmet Beer Bill, the organization considered continuing along that path. However, lobbyist Michael Sullivan recommended launching the Brewery Modernization Act instead. Because 2010 was an election year, the Gourmet Bottle Bill was unlikely to see much attention. However, the brewery efforts stood a better chance as a pro-business, economic initiative.

Dan Roberts, of both Free the Hops and Alabama Brewers Guild, explained that the Brewpub Act of 1992 was insufficient because it was so difficult to find an approved location. He, too, expected fairly quick progress with the Brewery Modernization Act since it focused on business operations rather than the alcohol itself. “We are severely limiting the growth of an industry that is finding success and creating jobs in other states,” Roberts said to the Birmingham News. “It’s really about making an environment more friendly for business, which ordinarily we would all be in favor of.”

Five Alabama production breweries were in operation as the Brewery Modernization Act made the legislative rounds in 2011. But if visitors wanted to tour Good People, Madison’s Blue Pants Brewery, Huntsville’s Yellowhammer Brewing, Old Black Bear Brewing or Straight to Ale Brewing, they could admire brewing equipment without appreciating the fruit of its labor. State regulations meant breweries were unable to serve even a sample on site. And by 2011, all brewpubs had closed.

“Why are breweries and brewpubs under different legislation? At the end of the day, they both manufacture beer,” Stuart Carter said to the Birmingham News.

“Everything about it [the Brewpub Act of 1992] is set up to make a brewpub fail,” Carter told Birmingham magazine. Why should 21st-century businesses be bound to Prohibition-era precedents? The proposed legislation would loosen the historic district requirements and allow taprooms in breweries. But the Brewery Modernization Act, which passed the Senate, didn’t get a final vote in the House because time ran out.

“Alabama law will not allow us to even charge $5 for a tour followed by free beer tastings like they can at wineries. Why are we treated differently?” Craig Shaw asked the Birmingham News. Shaw was brew master at Avondale Brewing Company, which was gearing up for business as the legislation went through the 2011 session.

That wasn’t the only lost opportunity. Because of the existing laws, Alabama breweries — and therefore the state itself — missed out on tourism dollars, proponents said.

“In many states, breweries are tourist destinations. Our phones are ringing and our email inboxes are filling with travelers looking for interesting places to stop while heading to the beach, in town for business, or looking for places to take their out-of-town guests. Currently we must deny their request for tours or to sample our products at the brewery,” the Alabama Brewers Guild wrote in its statement supporting the Brewery Modernization Act.

“That’s what it’s all about — enabling Alabama business to grow,” Roberts, the ABG’s executive director, explained to the Birmingham News. “If you go to other states, taprooms are the most common things in the world. Tasting rooms and tours are the way small breweries grow their brand. When you’re dealing with beer on this level, it’s not a commodity like the big beer brands.”

“At a time when we need more job creation and economic activity, our laws are preventing growth in one of the industries that is trying to grow here,” past Free the Hops president Stuart Carter said to the Birmingham News.

“It’s taken the hard work of hundreds of craft beer makers several years to change things. Of the 50 million cases of beer sold in Alabama last year, wouldn’t it be better if more of that revenue stayed in this state?” Back Forty’s Jason Wilson asked the News.

The city’s existing brewery and brewery-in-the-making both hoped to utilize freedoms a successful bill would offer. The repeal of brewpub laws would allow for on-site taprooms at Good People, Avondale and any breweries to come.

“At the end of the day, it’s about two things: economic development and competitiveness for Alabama businesses. It’s a travesty we can’t have a group of tourists stop by our brewery, show them around, sell them a pint of beer, talk to them about our brewery and Birmingham, tell them which grocery stores carry our products and recommend a great lunch stop or a hotel. We are constantly contacted by out-of-town people wanting to stop by the brewery to buy a pint of beer, and upon our explaining the restrictions of Alabama law, I doubt many people take the exit off of I-65,” Good People brewmaster Jason Malone told Black and White City Paper. He noted that taproom revenue would help subsidize brewery growth.

Likewise, the paper noted that breweries could stimulate growth in other ways. “Avondale Brewing’s [Coby] Lake says that he and his partners advocate SB 192 because they have spent considerable dollars to renovate a building that could easily become a hotspot in a Birmingham neighborhood that has been challenged for years,” the paper’s Chuck Geiss wrote.

Free the Hops’ Gabe Harris explained in the same article:

“The Brewery Modernization Act will help create jobs and revive dying neighborhoods in local communities. In addition, this bill allows brewpubs to provide tours and samples, which in turn would increase receipts from such taxes that go straight into Alabama’s education fund. Existing data supports how the earlier legislation has benefited the businesses that are now carrying these beers and all the things that our opponents once railed against simply haven’t happened.”

Budweiser Boycott

The act’s proponents ran into another obstacle before the bill could come up for vote, and a surprising one: an area distributor. In April 2011, Birmingham Budweiser, the local Anheuser-Busch distributor, worked against the bill. Gadsden’s Back Forty Brewing co-founder Jason Wilson said distributors worried that, with breweries being allowed to sell beer on premises, larger breweries like Anheuser-Busch and Coors could challenge the three-tier system. That system requires manufacturers to sell their beer to distributors, which then sell to stores. If breweries were permitted to self-distribute, Wilson explained to the (Mobile) Press-Register, distributors could see their business decline.

Free the Hops (by then 1,700 members strong) quickly called for a boycott of all beer carried by Birmingham Budweiser, which meant not only avoiding products such as Budweiser but also national and even local favorites, including Back Forty.
Harris told Black and White City Paper:

“Anheuser-Busch and their individual distributors have every right to work the legislature against the Brewery Modernization Act. They can be opposed to a jobs-creating, economic development bill that would benefit local business. They can oppose craft beer and Free the Hops. But the craft beer community and Free the Hops can oppose them, too. Anheuser-Busch products and products from their distribution network are now banned from Free the Hops events. This will have its first big effect on the Rocket City Brewfest and will continue with the Magic City Brewfest unless the Brewery Modernization Act becomes law in a form we find acceptable. The state can support many more breweries and we think it is in the best interest of consumers, the economy and the state to see [the legislation] move forward.”

(In 2012, the Alabama Wineries Association called for a similar boycott on beers distributed by opponents to a bill that some said aimed to create an exception to the three-tier system for wineries alone.)

It wasn’t a decision Free the Hops members took easily, the organization’s Stuart Carter explained to the Birmingham News:

“The only power we have is the content of our wallets. What we’re saying with this boycott is we as consumers don’t want to be channeling profits to wholesalers who are using those profits to prevent other consumers from getting the beer we want to drink. This is hurting friends, either friends we know or friends who brew the beer we love to drink. The problem is they’re the innocents in this who are caught in the crossfire.”

Those beers would have been excluded from Huntsville’s Rocket City Brewfest and Birmingham’s Magic City Brewfest had negotiations not resulted in a compromise prior to the events. But within weeks, the parties reached an agreement. Free the Hops conceded to maintain a distinction between brewpubs and production breweries. As a result, breweries were allowed to offer tastings without restriction or an additional license, but sales were limited to on-site consumption. Draft-to-go must still be purchased elsewhere. Brewpubs, on the other hand, still faced a number of the existing restrictions. Some were modified: the historic requirement was expanded to include economically distressed areas as determined by the municipality, not just a historic building; they were allowed to sell to wholesalers for outside distribution; and while a restaurant was still necessary, the minimum seating requirement was eliminated. This compromise was necessary in part because distributors wanted the brewpub license to remain special and limited.

On the Free the Hops blog, Alabama Brewers Guild executive director Dan Roberts wrote that the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison), favored the economically distressed area addition. “Does an area with an empty building — a building that would be perfect for a brewpub — constitute an economically distressed area? That’s up to a city council,” Roberts wrote.

In addressing the media, he explained that the compromise was preferable to the alternative. “It will not be everything we wanted, but it is definitely a workable solution and represents a significant improvement over the current restrictions,” he told the Birmingham News. “We were not going to get everything we wanted. The bill we ended up with is still a vast improvement over what we currently have.”

Jason Malone echoed those sentiments in an interview with the paper. “Anything in the right direction is better than the current status quo. Obviously, some compromises did have to be made, and while we would have rather not had to give up anything that we were going after, that’s not realistic.”

Moving Forward

Birmingham Budweiser became a top-level member of Free the Hops after the gourmet beer boycott, and the legislation gained forward momentum. On June 1, 2011, the Brewery Modernization Act passed the Senate and awaited Gov. Robert Bentley’s signature. Many worried that he would veto the bill, but Bentley explained that responsibilities as governor differed from those of state representative. “When I represented my local community, I voted against Sunday alcohol sales and things of that nature,” he said to the Birmingham News. “As governor, it’s a little bit different. I don’t feel I should impose my views on everybody in the state. The legislature has had a chance to look at it and passed it. I’m sure I will sign it.”

He did so, and Free the Hops again celebrated success. “It’s the biggest change in Alabama brewing laws since the repeal of Prohibition,” then Free the Hops president Gabe Harris told the Associated Press. The bill was expected to result in more breweries and brewpubs opening in the state. The bill opened up the viability of the businesses by creating additional revenue opportunities.

“The state will be able to print a beer tour map of the state where people can go from Huntsville to Mobile visiting brew pubs and breweries,” Carter said to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Kline also rejoiced in the organization’s success. “We went from taking 5 years on a bill to taking 2 years on a bill,” Kline said. “There was starting to be some clear economic impact from craft beer that people could see and quantify. Free the Hops had gained the reputation of only advocating bills that do good things, as opposed to bills that do bad things. So it got easier each time,” Kline said.

The economic impact was evident almost immediately: The state’s brewery production increased by 672.19 percent in the year following the bill’s passage. Following the passage of the bill, brewpubs were able to sell beer to wholesalers, which could then distribute the beer. It didn’t stop there. Between 2012 and 2013, United States breweries increased production by nearly 15 percent, and in Alabama, the growth was even more significant: at 22.35 percent. “The thing that I think has spawned all of the growth in the industry is the taprooms. That really gives you a ready revenue source rather than having to wait 30 days for a wholesaler to pay,” Good People Brewing Co. co-owner Michael Sellers told the Associated Press. He said the brewery’s taproom would create additional jobs, and his business partner, Jason Malone, indicated expectations for continued growth. “I’m excited about where the market is headed in Alabama as people get more tuned into how much better craft beer is. We’ve come a long way and I think this trend is here to stay,” he said to the Birmingham News as Avondale prepared to open.

Although Avondale debuted later that year, it was far from the last brewery to reap the legislation’s benefits. Although only five breweries existed in Alabama as the Brewery Modernization Act began circulating through the legislature, thirteen were in operation by 2014.

In 2014, Alabama Brewers Guild president and Back Forty co-founder Jason Wilson attributed that to the act. “So when you prohibit these small microbreweries from doing things like selling pints at their production facility, that’s the difference between a profitable and an unprofitable business model. The slightest restriction you impose on them can mean the difference between it being successful and failing,” he told Business Alabama. “Since these pieces of legislation have passed, we haven’t seen a single brewery shut down in the last five years. That’s a testament to the impact this legislation has had.”

• • •

Carla Jean Whitley has book signings for “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” throughout the rest of summer and fall:

  • Thursday: 4-7 p.m., Trim Tab Brewing Co., Lakeview
  • Saturday: 2-4 p.m., Books-A-Million, Brookwood Village, Homewood
  • Aug. 12: 5:30-7 p.m., Neighborhood Hops and Vine, Homewood
  • Aug. 13: 5:30-7 p.m., Neighborhood Hops and Vine, Crestline Park
  • Aug. 14: 5-7 p.m., Little Professor Book Center, Homewood
  • Aug. 15: 1-3 p.m., Vulcan Park
  • Sept. 4: 5-8 p.m., Good People Brewing Co., Southside
  • Oct. 9: 7 p.m., Hoover Public Library

“Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” (July 27, Arcadia Publishing)

Carla Jean Whitley

‘The Great Invisible,’ 5 years after the BP oil spill

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

Video: “The Great Invisible”

Monday marked the 5th anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 workers and dumping countless barrels of oil into the surrounding water. Tar balls from the disaster continued to wash ashore on Alabama beaches as late as 2013.

The PBS series “Independent Lens” aired the national premiere of “The Great Invisible,” a 2014 documentary by Mobile’s Margaret Brown on the biggest oil spill in American history. It won the South by Southwest festival award for documentary feature.

The film looks at life after the explosion and its impact on the Gulf Coast.

Reviewers have praised the doc:

  • Entertainment Weekly: “A sobering look at a part of coastal America that will never be the same again. A-.”
  • The Hollywood Reporter: “A powerful documentary that reminds those of us who’ve moved on to other worries that this one is far from finished.”
  • Variety: “A uniquely thought-provoking chronicle of an event that, in the absence of any real preventive action taken by oil companies or the U.S. government, calls out for further cinematic and journalistic attention.”

“The Great Invisible” streams online through May 21.

Latham Smith, The Great Invisible

Tugboat captain Latham Smith

Deepwater Horizon, The Great Invisible

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig

“The Great Invisible”

Books: Excerpt from Thomas Spencer’s ‘Five-Star Trails: Birmingham’

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Five-Star Trails Birmingham, Thomas Spencer

The following chapter is an excerpt from Birmingham author Thomas Spencer’s “Five-Star Trails: Birmingham” [aff. link]. He grew up hiking and camping in Alabama and worked as a reporter for the Anniston Star and the Birmingham News. Spencer is now senior research associate at the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. He was a founder of the Friends of Red Mountain Park and serves on the board of the Cahaba River Society.

“Five-Star Trails: Birmingham” provides plans and details for three dozen hikes, from downtown to the surrounding wilderness areas.

In this excerpt, Tom takes us on a hike to Oak Mountain State Park’s highest point.

• • •

Hike No. 12: Oak Mountain State Park, King’s Chair Loop

At-A-Glance Information

  • Scenery: ★★★★★
  • Trail Condition: ★★★★
  • Children: ★★★☆☆
  • Difficulty: ★★★★
  • Solitude: ★★★☆☆
  • GPS Trailhead Coordinates: N33° 21.438′ W86° 42.288′
  • Distance and Configuration: 5-mile loop
  • Hiking Time: 3 hours
  • Highlights: Challenging uphills, great mountaintop views from Eagle’s Nest and King’s Chair, wet-weather waterfalls
  • Elevation: 600 feet at trailhead, 1,200 feet at peak
  • Access, Maps, Wheelchair Access: [included in book]
  • Facilities: Restrooms and changing rooms at the trailhead
  • Comments: Remember that the Red Trail is a shared hiking and mountain biking trail.


This route is intense because of its uphill climb and the scenic rewards it provides. It’s a great hike for fall colors, providing sweeping scenic vistas. In wet weather, cascading streams tumble down the mountainside. In any season, it’s a quick way to feel far from civilization.

From the North Trailhead, this hike follows the Blue Trail up Double Oak Mountain to two of the park’s favorite overlooks. It continues southwest along the south rim of the mountain before taking the south Red–Blue Connector Trail to the Red Trail, which heads downhill back to the north trailhead.

Route Details

This hike doesn’t mess around. It makes an immediate climb up Oak Mountain. Between the North Trailhead and the Eagle’s Nest overlook, there is a 500-foot elevation gain, and that’s in the first mile-and-a-half. But that early and intense exertion pays dividends. You get away from civilization quickly. Thanks to the size of the park and the way the trail twists up the ridges, you encounter views on this hike in which all you see is woods and mountains, quick access to the feeling that you’ve wandered off someplace remote.

We hiked parts of this route in the warm and dry early fall and enjoyed the way the breezes on the ridges cooled us after a tough climb. We returned in winter after a rain and were surprised to find that what had been dry drainages in the fall had become a series of gushing waterfalls. There was so much water that creek crossings on the Red Trail offered a challenge for anyone wanting to keep their feet dry.

The hike starts at the North Trailhead, across from the gravel parking lot on the north end of the park, near the lower lakes and the park entrance off Alabama 119.

While the White, Yellow and Red Trails gain elevation gradually, the Blue Trail heads directly up the mountain. It is well marked, with plastic blue blazes nailed to trees. Distance markers are posted every quarter-mile; on the Blue Trail, they start at 0 and go up. So at Post 4, you’ve gone 1 mile.

The forests are a mix of pine and hardwood, with a nice sampling of longleaf pines on the ridges and white oaks in the draws; the latter provide a generous supply of fat acorns in the fall. When we went back in winter, the acorns were harder to find, likely gobbled up by the wintering wildlife. What was present in the winter that had not been there in the fall was water. And lots of it. A little less than a half-mile into the hike, you begin crossing a series of streams dropping down the mountainside, creating little waterfalls as they go. At the 1-mile mark, you pass the north Red–Blue Connector Trail, which serves as a shortcut back to the parking lot if you need it.

Oak Mountain State Park

Oak Mountain State Park
(click image for larger version)

King's Chair Trail map

King’s Chair Trail map, above,
and elevation profile, below

King's Chair Trail elevation profile

Shortly thereafter, the trail splits. Continuing straight, the original Blue Trail offers several unobstructed views of Shackleford Ridge, then descends gently to a saddle between ridges before resuming its upward climb. If you’ve had enough of steep hills by now, this is the way to go. Be forewarned, though, that heavy rains can turn the original Blue Trail into a swiftly flowing creek. Alternatively, if you turn left at the junction, a newer Blue Trail (with the same blue blazes) makes an exceedingly steep 0.2-mile climb to a rock outcropping at the Eagle’s Nest overlook, then continues downhill not quite as precipitously to rejoin the original Blue Trail just before the final pitch up to the Double Oak Mountain ridgetop. From the top of the rock at Eagle’s Nest, you can see yet another perspective of Shackleford Ridge and the park’s highest point. From all points, your view is forest and twisting mountain ridges that hide any evidence of civilization.

At the 1.5-mile marker on the trail (you’re about 2 miles into your hike if you went up to Eagle’s Nest), you top the ridge and reach the junction with the spur trail to the King’s Chair Overlook. Take the spur. At 0.3 miles, it’s a little longer than the spur to Eagle’s Nest, but it’s much less arduous.

At the rocky outcropping of King’s Chair, you get your first chance for wide-open views from the southeastern ridge of the mountain. In the far distance across the wide Coosa River Valley, the Talladega Mountain ridges are visible. In the middle distance, you’ll see steam rising from the cooling towers at Alabama Power’s Gaston electrical plant in south Shelby County, along the river.

Returning to the main trail, continue south along the ridge on the Blue Trail to the southern Red–Blue Connector. Take that connector, which cuts back to the north 0.75 miles to the Red Trail, which in turn takes you back to the North Trailhead. The return trip is especially nice if it has been raining. Those little mountain streams gather together with more volume, creating trailside waterfalls and challenging creek crossings. Along the way, you’ll notice stonework in the drainage system along the road. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built the Red Road. Remember that you’re sharing this trail with mountain bikers.

The trip back to the parking lot is well marked and easy.


From I-65, follow the directions on page 111. After entering the park, you’ll drive almost its entire length to get to the North Trailhead.

From US 280, follow the directions on page 111. About a mile past the back entrance to the park, the North Trailhead parking lot will be on your right, along the main park road.

• • •

Thomas Spencer has two library events in March: a brown bag lunch talk at noon March 11 at Emmet O’Neal Library in Mountain Brook [map]; and a book signing at 6:30 p.m. March 19 at Homewood Public Library [map].

He also has a free group hike at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 28 at Perry Lakes Park with Southeastern Outings. Other hikes with him and Scale Back Alabama will take place through April. For more information on the hikes, email Tanya Sylvan at Keen Communication or Tom Spencer.

“Five-Star Trails: Birmingham” (November 2014, Menasha Ridge Press)

Thomas Spencer

Books: Excerpt from Marie Sutton’s ‘The A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham’

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

Marie Sutton - AG Gaston Motel in Birmingham

The following chapter is an excerpt from Birmingham author Marie Sutton’s “The A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham” [aff. link]. She is a writer with a passion for immortalizing the African-American experience, married to the Rev. James Sutton with two children, Simone and Stephen.

In this excerpt, Sutton shares the history of segregated Birmingham and the rise of entrepreneur A.G. Gaston.

• • •

Locked Out, but Creating a New Way

“I couldn’t understand why the color of your skin made you better than me. That didn’t make sense.”

— Brenda Faush, a native of Birmingham

Alabama’s scorching summer days do not discriminate. Beneath the merciless sun, there is neither black nor white, rich nor poor — the warmth oppresses all. From the pristine streets of Mountain Brook to the dusty roads of Acipco-Finley, the thick, humid air can be suffocating and the pavement like hot lava.

If your skin is brown, however, it doesn’t take long for a million little reminders — like needle-thin icicles — to prick you back into reality; not even the indiscriminate Alabama heat can thaw out cold hearts or melt away the blistering, blue knuckle winter of segregation.

During the 1950s — in the sweltering June, July and August months — a Negro child had to still any excitement at the sight of Kiddieland Park. Riding along the endless stretch of Third Avenue West in Birmingham, the fairgrounds could be spotted from the road. The smell of salty, buttered popcorn and sweet, airy cotton candy was a seductive lure. The bright, colorful Ferris wheel sliced through the skyline, and the grounds danced with spinning boxcars, mock airplane rides and a merry-go-round.

Kiddieland was an annual summer carnival that was created in June 1948 for area children. Described by the Birmingham News as a “miniature Fairyland,” it was touted as “welcome to all,” though it was understood that that meant everyone except Negroes. The fair featured Sunday concerts, “hillbilly” shows, a “pint-sized edition of the Southern Railway’s Southerner” train and advertisements that showed rosy-cheeked children drunk with glee. It was not until years later that blacks were allowed to come, but only on the last day when the stuffed toys were usually picked over and nearly gone; the vendors were packing up and the popcorn stale.

Ask a room full of blacks who grew up in Birmingham during that time, and only a scant few won’t mention how their memories were stained by not being allowed to attend the fair.

“I remember looking over there and knowing that I couldn’t go and not quite understanding why,” remembered Samuetta Hill Drew, who was a colored child in Birmingham during the 1950s.

Tamara Harris Johnson’s parents tried to shield her from the Kiddieland discussion, she said. Even though the street on which the fair sat was a main artery to downtown, her parents, and many others, found alternate routes so as not to explain why admission to the fair was more than a dime. It also required that your skin be white.

That was the way it was in Birmingham. If you were black, you were only given access to scraps of the American dream, the torn and tattered pieces, the chewed up and spit out ones. Jim Crow laws made sure of it.

City ordinances deemed it illegal for blacks and whites to play cards together or even enjoy movies collectively unless there was separate seating, entrances and exits. And the only way they could eat in the same room was if they were divided by a solid partition that reached at least 7 feet from the floor. Signs that read “whites only” hung on doorways and water fountains throughout the city. Even the telephone directories noted whether people or businesses were “C” or “Colored.”


The 2015 Birmingham sports preview

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

James Hinchcliffe, Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

James Hinchcliffe races in the No. 27 GoDaddy car
at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Birmingham isn’t just Barons and other-city football. Take a look at the loaded calendar of sports for 2015, including a February of nonstop track and field, plus marathons, new pro football, three basketball tournaments and the Tide playing home games in Hoover.


  • Birmingham Barons: The 2015 season begins at home on April 9 at Regions Field with a five-game series against the Mobile BayBears.
  • Crimson Tide: The University of Alabama baseball team will have its season opener Feb. 13 at the Hoover Met with 31 home games there. The Tide is spending the season off campus as Sewell-Thomas Stadium has a $35 million renovation.
  • SEC Tournament: Speaking of the Met, the conference capper returns May 19-24. Hoover has been the annual home of the tournament since 1998.


  • AHSAA Tournament: Boys and girls high school teams from 1A to 7A converge Feb. 23-28 at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena.
  • Birmingham Blitz: The semi-pro team should have games through March, with a new season starting in November.
  • Conference USA Tournament: For the first, and probably last, time, Birmingham will play host to the men’s and women’s tournament. (UAB’s Bartow Arena held the 1996 women’s tourney.) The women will play opening rounds at Bartow. The women’s semifinals on and the all the men’s games will be at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena. UAB will likely be dropped from Conference USA in 2015 after the school punted football.
  • SIAC Tournament: The men’s and women’s tournament returns March 3-7 to the CrossPlex.


  • Alabama Outlawz: The minor league team’s home opener is April 11 at Bill Harris Arena at the CrossPlex.
  • Birmingham Bowl: 11 a.m. Saturday. Legion Field. Florida vs. East Carolina. $30-$50. Airing on ESPN.
  • Birmingham Freedom: The 14th try’s the charm, as a new pro league with a new local franchise. The teams kick off May 16, schedule TBD.
  • Hoover Bucs: The first defending 7A champion will open its season on the road against Oakland in Murfreesboro, Tenn., probably on or near Aug. 21. We mention it because it’ll probably be on ESPN.
  • Labor Day Golden Classic: The annual event returns after a 3-year absence, pitting Miles against the University of North Alabama Sept. 6 (the day before Labor Day) at Legion Field.
  • Magic City Classic: The nation’s largest black college football game, played since 1924, is on Halloween at Legion Field.


  • Regions Tradition: The Champions Tour returns May 11-17 at Shoal Creek with a $2.2 million purse at stake.


  • Frozen Tide: The Alabama hockey team is off to a rousing 14-3 start, with home games at the Pelham Civic Complex throughout January, culminating in the SECHC Tournament Feb. 6-8.



  • Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama: Fans will see Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Will Power and two-time defending champ Ryan Hunter-Reay go by real fast. April 24-26 at Barber Motorsports Park.
  • Triumph SuperBike Classic: Excitement on two wheels, June 21-22 at Barber Motorsports Park.


  • Birmingham Vulcans: The first match of the year is Feb. 7 against Jackson at Krebs Field, Ramsay Park.


  • Magic City Half Marathon: Benefitting the Ruben Studdard Foundation for the Advancement of Children in the Music Arts. Nov. 22.
  • Mercedes Marathon: Got what it takes to run the Boston Marathon? Prove it right here Feb. 20-22.
  • Vulcan Run: More than 1,500 runners will stream through downtown Nov. 7 in one of the most popular local 10K races.

Track and Field

  • AHSAA Indoor Tournament: High schools compete for state titles Feb. 5-7 at the CrossPlex.
  • College Tournaments: No less than five conferences will hold track and field championships over 13 days in February at the CrossPlex. Southland: Feb. 16-17; SWAC: Feb. 21-22; Sun Belt: Feb. 23-24; Conference USA: Feb. 25-26; SIAC: Feb. 27-28.
  • NCAA Division II Indoor Championship: The CrossPlex will hold the big event March 13-14; the Division I Championship will be there in 2016.


  • AHSAA Tournament: The high school state championship will be Oct. 29-30 at the CrossPlex.

Which events will you see in 2015? Shout it out in the comments.

Don’t miss the 2015 Birmingham food and drink preview!