No one is more afraid of craft beer than distributors, and probably for good reason. Increasingly people like going to breweries to drink and buy craft beer and, more than in any time in U.S. history, people live near where beer is made. This drives distributors a little bonkers.
After all, they paid for and supported the post-Prohibition beer laws that kept big breweries from holding retailers hostage and, in the intervening years, managed to insinuate themselves permanently into the beer supply chain.
So now, as craft brewers try to fight against the intense pressure from mega-breweries, the distributors are there, jackal-like, to make certain no bone goes uncleaned. This innocuous, all craft brewery story from the supposedly beer friendly Virginia is a really good example.
RICHMOND – A bill regulating Virginia breweries could have kicked the kegs and closed the doors at Deschutes Brewery’s tasting room in downtown Roanoke. That is, until Deschutes CEO Michael LaLonde and Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, stepped in. Legislation proposed by Del.
Virginia is set to make a special exception to keep the Deschutes brewery taproom in Roanoke open after one of the state legislators introduced a bill setting a floor on taproom sales. The new beer laws would require that any brewery taproom make at least 20 percent of the beer on premise. The bill was introduced by Del. David Bulova as part of a compromise with the craft brewer’s association to keep the state from revamping the craft beer distribution laws in Virginia.
According to the story Bulova has received $18,000 in donations from the Virginia Wholesalers Association.
On the face of it, there is nothing wrong at all with this measure. In practice, though, it would keep small breweries from supplementing their income as they grew (which is pretty common). It also would prevent them from having a big brewery in, say, an industrial park and a small downtown taproom.
Actually, it’s why Deschutes got involved in the first place. That’s what’s going on with them. The company is planning on opening a massive production brewery in Roanoke, but not for another few years. In the meantime, they’re brewing a little bit in the downtown brewery and shipping the rest in from elsewhere.
The new beer laws would have shut them down. Instead, the brewery had to convince a legislator of it’s own to get an exception passed. They were given an extension that will allow the taproom to stay open until the new brewery is complete. Then, they either can close the taproom down or pay a distributor to move their beer from one end of town to another.
It isn’t a question, really, of equity. No one believes that political life is fair. Instead, it is a question of interests, and how quickly (especially when it comes to beer laws) legislators will sell out their constituents.
One gets the impression that, in general terms, distributors (and certainly ABInBev subsidiaries) consider themselves a free-market capitalists in all aspects of business, except the one where they have to be competitive on their own. Buying politicians is as old as politics itself, and just about as fair.