Theoretically, that brew you just finished should have traveled a pretty straightforward route from the brewery to your glass. Shipped from the brewer who created it, the beer was warehoused by a middleman, who then loaded it onto a truck and delivered it to a retailer, where it eventually found its way onto the shelf or into your local pub.
That’s beer distribution in theory, anyway. In reality, that beer likely had to navigate a virtual labyrinth of rules and regulations, peculiar and unique to each state and province across the distribution landscape. Plotting a course through that murky terrain can be a stupefying headache, not just for brewers and distributors, but ultimately for you and me, the thirsty little guy holding out his mug at the end of the long supply chain.
Plotting a course through that murky terrain can be a stupefying headache, not just for brewers and distributors, but ultimately for you and me, the thirsty little guy holding out his mug at the end of the long supply chain.
When Prohibition was repealed in the thirties, each state was given autonomy to create its own alcohol laws. Some states prohibit beer with high alcohol content. Others restrict the hours and days that beer can be sold. Strict labeling policies can keep a beer off the market if a label is deemed morally offensive. Even in these modern times, some cities and counties remain “dry,” prohibiting the sale of alcohol entirely.
After diligently investigating the subject and trying to piece together this dizzying puzzle for more than a month, I can’t pretend to fully understand the logic behind a lot of these rules. Truth be told, I could really use a beer.
So, let’s hit the road on a cross-country pub-crawl, winding our way through the legal minefield of crazy beer laws.
Rules Of The Road
First stop, New York state. We can grab lunch at The Empire Brewing Co., a Syracuse brewpub that features award-winning handcrafted lagers and ales. Owner David Katleski is always good for a colorful story, and these days he’s part of one. In April, Governor David Patterson signed a law requiring all bottles and cans to be labeled with a New York-specific UPC code, in order to prevent the deposit redemption of products purchased out of state.
“The intention was good,” says Katleski, also president of the New York Brewers’ Association, “but the outcome could be an absolute nightmare.”
Imagine every brewer having to set up a new production line exclusively for the labeling of all beer destined for sale in New York. The added cost to small brewers could potentially force many craft beers out of that market. Now imagine how many of those brewers cried foul.
“All of them,” says Katleski of the 62 craft brewers in New York state. Even D.G. Yuengling & Son of Pottsville, PA, which touts itself as America’s Oldest Brewery, announced it would pull out of New York completely should the measure be upheld.
The specter of adverse repercussions also alarmed bottled water manufactures along with wine makers, soda companies and sundry retailers. In May, a coalition of water bottle companies brought a lawsuit arguing that the “bottle bill” created an unnecessary burden and that a looming deadline of June first would be impossible to meet.
Now, those industry fears and concerns have been temporarily allayed. A federal judge has ordered a preliminary injunction that blocks the labeling requirement until April, 2010. Lobbying efforts by all these businesses have also prompted the governor and state legislature to consider possible amendments.
It looks like New York is once again safe for beer, at least for now.