Being a state legislator has to be hard. The world you have been elected to create and vote on laws for, changes at a lightning speed. You are expected to not only enact legislation that solves current problems but also anticipate problems down the road. That is never more apparent than with any legislation involving new and emerging industries like craft beer. Today’s article is actually three short articles from Alabama, Mississippi, and Northern Ireland that all deal with the same thing: laws that adversely affect craft beer because no one in the legislatures knew what craft beer was nor how big a business it would become.
All three of the articles deal with how beer is distributed. It seems in all three cases the idea of a large number of small breweries wanting to control the distribution of their own product never occurred to anyone who makes laws. Why would it? If Ireland is anything like the US, for a long stretch of history beer was made by large companies pumping out as much of the least offensive beer possible. Then the beer world changed without most people noticing it and a new business category was established, but the laws are just starting to acknowledge craft beer’s existence.
On one hand, you have legislators who are trying to navigate these issues by learning about the new industry and are generally trying to do a good job to keep the playing field fair for the new and growing industry. On the other hand, you have legislators who, because how the system works, simply carry out the wishes of the lobbies who want to restrict the changes to the beer industry that are inevitably happening.
Large and wealthy beer companies and distributors fight every day to keep the power they have within the industry from being dispersed among craft brewers. However, I think they know this is simply a delaying tactic used until they can figure out how to keep making the money they always have in this landscape they know is changing.
The emergence of craft brewing has disrupted a whole industry. This wasn’t entirely intentional. All the first craft brewers wanted to do was make good beer. They knew that some people out there wanted more than just watered down mass produced pilsners. The problem these brewers have run into is that the people that produce and distribute those watery pilsners gathered their money and power by making sure their product was in every watering hole, grocery store and gas station they could find and they are not giving up that money and power easily.
I don’t want to make this seem like some grand eloquent fight for freedom. Craft brewers just want to make and sell their beer to as many people as possible and want the playing field to be level so they can fail or succeed on their own merits. That is true whether it is North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, or Northern Ireland.