They Don’t Want You To Drink What You Want To Drink
Yet this most basic interest of the consumer is continually thwarted by the predominant method of alcohol sales and distribution in the United States: the legal mandate that all alcohol flow from producer to distributor to retailer. This method of separating the production, distribution and retail sales aspects of the alcohol industry—known as the “Three Tier System”—has come under attack by wineries and wine lovers as the proliferation of wine products and interest in wine has grown over the past 20 years. Wine lovers found that the three-tier system’s greatest impact was to thwart their ability to get the products they want. Wineries found that the greatest impact of the three-tier system was to thwart their ability to get the products to consumers that wanted them.
The result was an expansion of direct shipping rights for wineries and consumers. While this has aided consumers and wineries, the continued mandate in most states that wine meant to be sold on retail shelves must flow through a distributor rather than the winery selling it directly to a retailer, still hampers consumer access to wine and wineries’ access to retail markets.
So as the craft brewing industry continues to grow and consumers take a greater and greater interest in these artisan products, it should be no surprise that beer consumers and artisan brewers are confronting the same systemic barriers to commerce that wineries and wine consumers have faced.
It should also be no surprise that the same interests that have defended the archaic, anti-consumer and anti-free trade three-tier system for wine are defending this system against calls for reform by craft brewers and lovers of craft brews.
Today in Washington, a collection of defenders of the Three Tier System will get together to talk to themselves about why the three-tier system is such a good thing, despite it thwarting the interests of consumers and free trade in general. The New American Foundation will sponsor this talkfest celebrating the Three Tier System. And not surprisingly, there will be no representatives of the consumer there to offer a counter point.
So, I urge you to take a look at the new paper issued by the Competitive Enterprise Institute entitled “Avoid A Beer Monopoly By Setting The Market Free: How the Mandatory Three Tier System Inhibits Competition.” Authored by Michelle Minton, a tireless proponent of free market policies and pro-consumer interests, the paper outlines the various ways by which the three-tier system hurts consumers and hurts the marketplace for craft beer.
Delving into the intricacies of systemic alcohol politics isn’t the first thing that enters the mind of consumers, the alcohol-related media or even those working in the industry. But it should be. It is critical that we all arm ourselves with real information about the industry we work in and the way the products we love become available to us. If we don’t, we will find ourselves at the mercy of those who have interests in direct conflict to consumes and a vibrant marketplace for artisan beer, wine and spirits.