Somewhere around two years ago, the North Carolina craft beer community got a shock to its system. The Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) arm of the Department of Public Safety closed a few beer festivals. Why? Servers at the beer festival were taking the opportunity to go around and taste other beers. You see in North Carolina it is illegal for someone who is serving beer to drink while on duty or while wearing their uniform. Bars and restaurants followed this rule with no problems. However, most craft beer people didn’t know this new interpretation of the rule now included festivals. Tasting beer is one of the incentives for volunteering for to pour at a beer festival for brewery and distribution reps. That is one of the main draws to get volunteers for the Great American Beer Festival.
Under the ALE interpretation, that is now verboten. So is having a post-shift beer at the place you work even if the establishment has closed for the day. Bartenders can no longer pour themselves a beer to sip as they sweep and mop. Again, under ALE interpretation, you are still on duty.
Without getting into the weeds of the absurdity of this particular situation, the larger point is somehow craft beer is succeeding in this country when the laws that govern it change from state to state. They can also change from year to year depending upon who is interpreting and how they are interpreting the laws that govern beer and alcohol.
Here are my problems with alcohol laws in this country:
Most of the laws affecting craft beer culture were written years before the idea of craft beer was even conceived.
The hodge-podge nature of alcohol laws vary from state to state is more than just an annoyance for brewers.
Alcohol law enforcement is poorly funded and staffed. Plus, staff, like the rest of general population, is just learning about craft beer and how its culture is different from a traditional beer and alcohol culture. Also, that culture is often imported from other states where craft beer is better established and the laws are different creating somewhat of a culture clash.
The people I feel worst for are the government officials and agents tasked with interpreting and enforcing these laws. They are hamstrung by the 3 problems I just listed. I think each state should create a commission to study how to modernize its alcohol laws and change them to fit our times and culture. Of course, that could just make things worse.
For some reason, I thought this case was already adjudicated. It is an interesting look at the Canadian constitution through a beer lens. There are similar laws in the United States (including North Carolina and South Carolina), however, I don’t remember ever hearing anyone getting arrested for smuggling alcohol from one state to another.
There are not going to stop this pub from being built. Maybe all the noise they make will make it harder for the pub to gain traction, but it will be built and lots of people will drink there. The San Diego craft beer community needs to move and beat AB by making better beer and being cooler people. Provide a better and more organic atmosphere then you will get at a big corporate pub. You can tell the difference when going into a locally owned bar and a corporate franchise. Make that and a much better beer selection your selling points.
This is something happening in small towns all across the state of North Carolina. Many of these towns are trying to attract tourists from in and outside of the state. They are attempting to make themselves destinations for people to spend long weekends relaxing in the clean country air. That is why it is interesting to watch the clash of these small towns with the people they are trying to attract. Again, this is why I don’t think the people who passed HB2 though past the immediate bump from their voters about what they were doing. Not all the tourists you are trying to attract fit into your traditional definition of a couple or a family.
Of course, the rate of growth slowed. It is idiotic to think a 22% increase every year was sustainable in any business. Many in the industry scoff at the idea of saturation, but it is real and it will happen. To think that level of growth was sustainable for a long period and/or that saturation in certain markets will not happen is a fundamental misunderstanding of business. No matter how in demand your product is, eventually, it will stop being the next big thing. I’ve been saying this for two years, there will be a moment soon when many of the breweries that opened in the last three years will close. Many of them will be brewers that make great beer, but have horrible business plans and many of them will have great business plans but horrible beer.
Distributors worrying that increasing the self-distribution cap is somehow going to cut into their business is understandable but overstated. Most breweries don’t want to self-distribute at a certain point because self-distribution becomes a second business they didn’t sign up for when they started making beer. Many of the brewers I’ve met and talked to that do self-distribution, want a distributor so that they can expand their footprint without having to worry about trucks, drivers, and sales reps. That is why I think along with increasing the distribution cap, the laws governing the contracts between brewers and distributors should also be changed to make it easier for brewers to get out of contracts with bad distributors.
Brewers have been adding fruit, lemonade, and other things to beer for hundreds of years. Sours are as traditional to beer culture as pilsners. The idea that beer that doesn’t taste like beer is some new trend is absurd. Maybe the addition of watermelon or habanero peppers is new, but not by much. Coco Chanel once said something like, “Fashion is temporary, but style is forever.” Use trends to augment your business, not define it.
Never go into a craft beer bar and ask a bartender to just give you their favorite. That can really badly for you. Trust me, I’ve seen it. Everyone’s palate and predilections are different. Don’t assume your favorite flavor is the same as anyone’s. Now, there is scientific research that tells us why.
Thursday has arrived. As an aside, my Directv has stopped working. I have a repair scheduled for Saturday morning. Here’s the thing, if and when ESPN figures out a way to make money with an online streaming service I will dump Directv in the time it takes for me to sign up and give ESPN my money. I don’t worry about missing the NFL or the NBA because once ESPN goes, they won’t be far behind. Anyway, on to the Five Articles.
Laws can also curb craft beer. Indiana has to have a lot of people working in its legislature whose job is to read laws and statutes to let their bosses know what those laws and statutes actually say. How did none of them know that the way the law is written prohibits many breweries from selling growlers?
Here is another story about state laws “curbing” craft beer growth. I understand that Olde Mecklenburg has a fundamental objection to selling their beer through a distributor. I also believe the state of NC should raise the cap on how many barrels a brewer can sell without a distributor. I also think there does need to be a cap on how much brewers can sell without a distributor. I also just wish everyone involved with this should dial back the rhetoric and find a solution.
I was in Asheville this weekend (yes, I have a blog post coming on that) and I went by Burial Beer. As luck would have it, I happened to sit down beside the taproom manager at the bar. We talked a little bit and I mentioned we were interested in getting their beers in Craft. Off-handily he mentioned that they were getting ready to expand so that they can start distributing further out from Asheville. I didn’t expect to read an article about an almost $2 million expansion.
Here is a look at AB-Inbev acquisitions from an English perspective. This is actually a nice sober look at the effects of selling to one of the big brewers. There will be changes no matter what the press releases say. The infrastructure may allow you to distribute to a wider audience, but that means you have to make more beer. Does that affect the taste? Does that affect the creation of new recipes? Does your beer translate to a wider audience? If it doesn’t, will your brewers be pressured to change the recipes to get it to translate? Of course, if someone offers you a $1 billion for your company, you are stupid not to take it.
It has been hard to find Five Articles worthy of my attention this past week. So I took a little more time off to actually catch up on sleep. That is why today, I have four articles about beer and one about Quentin Tarantino. My three guys from the 1990s indie movie explosion are Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and Ed Burns. Smith is now a podcaster and a good one when he isn’t too stoned to keep conversations on track. Burns has turned to television and away from movies for the time being. Anyway, the Five Articles.
Second is this article from BlueRidgenow.com. In both the editorial and the article, two things are clear: 1) For whatever reason, the ALE office overseeing that part of western NC has ramped up its presence. Maybe it is the new lead investigator or the media coverage of the growing brewing industry. It is clear the ALE may not be targeting breweries, but it has upped its visibility. 2) As is the case in most of the country, the laws and regulations governing alcohol and their enforcement has not kept pace with the brewing industry or the culture that surrounds it. Breweries need to educate their staffs on the laws and regulations even while the laws governing alcohol need reform.
The reason there was no blogging yesterday is insomnia sucks. I actually got a few hours of sleep last night, so let’s do this. Today we have merges, beer laws, and one of the worst opening sentences I’ve ever read for something in the New York Times. (Editorial note: my tone today reflects my lack of sleep.)
This is an interesting interpretation of growler and beer producer law in Texas. It basically makes it illegal for anyone who is not a brewer to fill crowlers. In other words, officials have no idea how to categorize crowlers so they just made them illegal. At some point, someone in charge is going to have to make a decision or the state legislature is going to get involved. That often just makes things worse.
This is a great story about the power of good beer. German beer has been governed by the Reinheitsgebot for centuries. Now, in order to make better and more flavorful beers a group of younger brewers has started to add ingredients not covered by the law (which actually isn’t an official law anymore). Of course, some of those brewers sell more beer outside Germany then they do inside Germany. That is just the nature of change, first it is slow then it is all of a sudden.
You get snotty and somewhat pretentious sentences like the opening for this piece when you let wine writers write about beer. Please stop that New York Times. You have enough resources to find a beer writer to contract for a few pieces a year, do that please. I’m happy that Mr. Asimov is writing about goses, but only someone who is a wine writer could write a sentence that silly sounding. Writing like this is why I stopped reading wine reviews. I don’t like beer reviews that are as self-important and pretentious as wine reviews. Stop overcomplicating it, its beer. “Wine is complicated, beer is complex.” – Brett Joyce, Rogue Ales.