Good Beer Hunting

Fervent Few

Fervent Few — A Change Is Gonna Come

Texas is on the verge of allowing breweries to sell to-go packaged beer, and many other states are beginning to repeal their archaic three-tier laws as well. This week we asked The Fervent Few which laws in their area still need to be changed—and what could be done to help usher in that change.


Evan Sallee: “Here in Minnesota, off-sale is limited to breweries that produce under 20,000 barrels per year, and is also restricted to 750ml and 64oz package sizes—which, if you've ever visited, is why we have the weirdly sized crowlers. In the past couple of years, we’ve had breweries who have had to stop selling growlers, and we have a lot of breweries nearing that threshold. We've met extremely heavy resistance attempting to make reasonable changes to Minnesota’s laws, which would make them more in line with regional neighbors’—any brewery who has a taproom should also be able to sell any package size to its consumers.

This hurts tourism, because beer travelers expect to be able to purchase off-sale from breweries when they visit. When they come to our biggest and most well-known breweries, they are denied this experience. Moreover, it harms our small breweries because they have an extremely difficult route to market. Distributor portfolios are full, and liquor-store shelves are extremely crowded, so it is hard to justify the investment in packaging equipment. Allowing more flexible off-sale would provide them a guaranteed market for the product, and would also give them the ability to sell their cans in liquor stores. Currently you see a lot of hand-filled crowlers from hot new breweries in liquor stores, but this package is an extremely poor representation of the product compared to more traditional canning methods with better DO control.

Education is among the biggest priorities. A lot of consumers aren't familiar with these restrictions because they don't really know anything else, and they just assume that this is the way things are and should be. Moreover, most legislators take very seriously the idea that any change along these lines would be an enormous blow to the three-tier system, even though the volumes in question are extremely limited. A change would actually allow more breweries to enter the three-tier system because they can justify adding the packaging equipment.”

Thad Parsons: “We need direct distribution for breweries in Virginia, similar to what wineries have in the state. That and wholesale change to franchise law in the state

Austin L. Ray: “About a year and a half ago now, Georgia finally approved direct sales for breweries. Almost overnight, we've seen so many new small-business plans across the state emerge. No longer do you have to push to get your manufacturing company to crank out 5,000 barrels/year as soon as possible (this is the amount I've been told by Georgia brewers is pretty much required in order to make enough money to support a small team when you're forced to sell all your beer through a distributor).

Instead, you can be a plucky upstart, selling 500 BBLs/year out your front door, eliminating the middleman, drastically increasing your profits, and serving as a unique hub in your community. It's been exciting to watch, and now the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild is going after our restrictive franchise laws and looking to free up self-distribution as well. Progress!”

Chris Cohen: “It'd be huge if California changed its laws to allow bars to sell packaged beer and growlers/crowlers to go. Bars have been put in the position of competing with brewery taprooms, which have popped up everywhere (which I totally agree should be fine for them to do). I regularly have customers at Old Devil Moon ask if they can get beer to go, and all I can do is tell them to go to a nearby bottle shop or brewery. I sorta kinda understand this rule for higher-proof liquor (sorta kinda), but with beer, I don't see the major downside to letting people take some home and finish their night there—and neither does the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), apparently, since they allow it for brewery taprooms.

So, what's the deal? I have to point out that, as far as I’m aware, the actual legislation regarding California alcohol licenses does not prohibit on-site license holders from also selling for off-site—it's just an extra limitation that the ABC inserts into nearly every license (which is why certain bars are allowed to sell beer to go—but only packaged beer, no growlers/crowlers—but most are not). It'd be nice to see that bar-license limitation officially put to bed by the California legislature.”

Rob Steuart: “The biggest law change I'd go for in Australia is a single tax rate per unit of alcohol. At the moment, the rate is based on whether the alcohol in question is beer, wine, cider or spirit. For beer, it then varies based on how it is packaged (50l kegs have a lower rate per unit than bottles/cans), and on what the ABV of the final beer is (higher ABV has a higher rate). These rules don’t necessarily apply to other alcoholic beverages, which makes it harder for startup breweries to compete—you need the volume to make ends meet, whereas small wineries and cideries have a lower tax burden.”

Andrés Muñoz: “I don't know the exact laws that impact this on a federal/state/local level, but I would change any laws that limit direct-to-consumer, interstate shipping. I think Tavour [a craft beer delivery service] is a cool concept, but I've never been able to try it since they can't ship to North Carolina. I’ve never understood why that's a thing.”

Peter Campen: “In Ohio, it is still illegal to have homebrew outside of your own house. It makes it hard to have large events like the National Homebrew Competition.”

Which laws would you change to make beer better in your community? Join The Fervent Few and let’s discuss the ins and outs of your region’s beer laws.

Hosted by Jim Plachy