Here is a transcript of a story that ran on NPR Berlin about Berlin Beer Week. Hugh and Hana Eckermann have done a series of reports from beer week including this one where they talk to brewers, including Sam Caglione and Greg Koch, about the German Beer Purity laws and how younger German brewers are beginning to chafe under it. This is even leading to a reconsideration of the law this year that would allow other natural ingredients to be included.
This comes at a time when a major piece of legislation in the US Congress that would reform the tax code for craft beverage producers (wineries, cideries, and breweries) sits waiting for debate and when the never-ending argument over raising the NC beer self-distribution cap enters its 3rd year.
These cases all interest me in how different brewers of different sizes and of different ages view legislation that affects them. Take the case I know best of these, the NC distribution law. The NC Brewers Guild and 3 of the largest craft brewers in NC have made this a major issue. They talk about it at every turn and have even created a group to promote it called NC Craft Freedom.
Here is the thing, everyone involved in NC craft beer agrees that the cap should be raised and that the current cap is an arbitrary number that was created when no one understood how big craft beer would become to the NC economy. Even the smaller distributors who work with most of the state’s craft brewers agree that it should be raised and that brewers should have the freedom to sell their beer how they see fit.
However, if you talk to anyone from a smaller brewer who is nowhere near the 25000-barrel limit for long enough, usually over a few beers, they will quickly volunteer that the state’s excise taxes are a greater hindrance to their growth then a self-distribution limit that is still 10000 barrels away for them. It is amazing that North Carolina’s craft beer industry has flourished as it has when as of last year, only Tennessee, Alaska, Hawaii, and South Carolina had higher state excise taxes. Add to that, if you self-distribute you also must pay sales taxes on the beer you sell.
In all aspects of life, your opinion on a thing is dependent on where you sit in relationship to that thing. In Germany, the newer brewers see the Reinheitsgebot as stifling their growth and creativity. While the older brewers see it as a cherished part of their heritage. In NC, the large craft brewers see one law as hurting their growth, but the smaller brewers see a whole other law as hurting their prospects.
Heraclitus famously wrote a man never steps in the same river twice to indicate the constant march of history. I think it can equally be said, no two people even see the same river they are both stepping in because they have different perspectives.