SALES of craft beer, which tastes better than the mass-market slop, were up 17.2% last year, even as overall beer sales fell 1.9%. Small wonder the big, bland brewers want to stop you drinking it. The latest bar brawl concerns growlers; the jugs which those who wish to continue quaffing at home use to carry beer from the bar. Growlers commonly come in three sizes: one gallon (eight pints—probably flat by the time it’s finished); quarter-gallon (too little and likely gone on the walk home) and half-gallon (just right). The midsized variety is the best, but is banned in Florida, Mississippi and Idaho.
Craft-brewers in the Sunshine State petitioned to get half-gallon growlers legalised. The big brewers objected, saying this would undermine a system whereby the manufacture, distribution and retailing of beer have long been separated. After much lobbying, a Florida Senate bill was drafted; it allowed half-gallon growlers but only if craft-brewers used a distributor for all off-sales. In practice this would have meant that a bar would have to buy back its own beer from a middleman (at a mark-up, of course) before selling it to a thirsty consumer. The bill died in the House.
Josh Aubuchon of the Florida Brewers Guild says that beer giants took a stand against growlers because they feel threatened. Their market share is declining as more Americans choose to “drink less, drink better,” he says.
Booze rules vary a lot between states, and typically make as much sense as a man who’s had ten pints trying to explain quantum physics. For example, 36 states allow brewers to distribute their own wares, up to a point. But not Florida. If a local restaurant runs out of his beer, laments Ben Davis, the owner of Intuition Ale Works in Jacksonville, it is illegal for him to drop off a keg or two; the restaurant must wait days for a distributor.
Under a federal franchise law it is hard for brewers to switch distributors. New York state gives a partial exemption to firms that brew less than 300,000 barrels a year. But such small-business friendly laws are rare. The system is set up to protect big brewers, distributors and “fizzy, flavourless beers,” complains Mr Aubuchon.
Florida’s primary elections, which are on August 26th, are firing up both sides. Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, has said he favours legalising half-gallon growlers. So does Charlie Crist, his most likely Democratic opponent. But state lawmakers are divided, and the big brewers are not beaten yet. Expect spillage.
This article was published in The Economist on 23rd August 2014. See this link.