Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Finching It

Adam Carolla has an oft repeated rant about cigarette smokers vs. gun owners. The rant goes like this, cigarette smokers have mostly been accommaditing to regulations and laws against them. Can't smoke on a flight, okay makes sense, I'll just smoke over here. Can't smoke inside, okay, I'll just go out and light up. I can only smoke over there, okay, that's fine. Giant pictures of cancer on my cigarette pack, that's fine. Gun owners, on the other hand, fight tooth and nail over every infringement on rights. Try to ban semiautomatic handguns, f... you we need those. Try to ban armor piercing bullets, f... you, sometimes I need to shoot through a safe. We can argue the merits of these infringements, but I'd much rather be in the boat with the gun owners over the smokers. Mostly, gun owners don't get messed with while smokers are going to have to fight to smoke in their homes or in front of children soon.

This is how I feel about alcohol regulation. We mostly just rolled over when the FDA and politicos went after Four Loko. Four Loko was a boogeyman that was easy to demonize and didn't have a constituency to back it up. Beer drinkers should have been that constituency, but we have too much of that smoker mentality. We think, in the backs of our minds, that somehow drinking a beer is something that needs to be done in secret. It's shameful and anything that makes it even more shameful should be regulated away. So we just turned our backs on Four Loko and beer with caffeine added. Never mind that alcohol and caffeine have been combined since the Irish put a little shot of whiskey in their morning coffee and somehow there's still Irish people around.

The fight against a bill in Wisconsin that would ban craft brewers from self distribution has been a little more hearty. But, in my eyes, it hasn't been a pro beer fight at all, it's been a fight against Scott Walker. Every article I've read has blamed the bill's provision on the Governor. It showed up on Think Progress as if Scott Walker put it in the bill because he was paid off by MillerCoors. Scott Walker was the boogeyman and this stupid bill was a way to hand him a defeat. The fight had very little to do with the merits of giving small craft brewers the ability to self distribute. Nowhere did I find in any article I read how many states actually have existing laws that don't allow self distribution by craft brewers. Kansas has a law like that, I'm sure many other states have laws like that. I'll bet if you looked at a map of the United States with number of breweries listed in each state, those states with the fewest breweries will be the ones with a law that prevents self distribution. But, we don't fight for repeal of those laws. We should. We're always playing defense and never go on offense, We're the Schottenheimer Chiefs with Steve Bono at Quarterback.

We have a government that will trample all over our rights if we let it. We have to let a government stooge touch our nuts to get on an airplane. We can get arrested for filming a policeman during a traffic stop. We can have our homes raided and guns pointed at our heads if someone tells a cop that you sell marijuana. We can get arrested for dancing at the Jefferson Memorial. We can be stopped at random checkpoints to get our papers checked and our property inspected at the whim of government agents. The NSA can listen to your overseas phone calls without a warrant. The FBI can get information on all of your Google searches without a warrant or documentation of an investigation. The President can order the assassination of American citizens with no recourse whatsoever. This is a non-partisan assault on our rights.

What are we doing about it? We're asking the government to ban McDonald's from giving toys to kids with a Happy Meal. We think all of the above is a pretty good idea because we're not the bad guys. But, when it comes to beer, we do think we are the bad guys. Beer with caffeine being banned, sounds reasonable, we'll just drink other beers. Beer with high alcohol content, well, it's a little inconvenient, but we don't need that high alcohol beer. Need a license to buy alcohol, seems reasonable, we'll just run right over to the ATF to get one, hope I take a good picture. Government run liquor stores, well we don't want people profiting from selling alcohol.

There are people out there trying to make a case for taking away our rights to drink whatever beer we want. We've just accepted the many hurdles the regulatory state has thrown up between a guy who wants to make beer and sell it to you. We should be fighting to reduce those hurdles rather than fighting even more hurdles. We should be playing offense not defense. We should be the NRA not the smokers. We should be Peyton Manning not Steve Bono.

We lost a brewery in the past week because of a stupid FDA restriction, we can lose a lot more if we're not careful.


  1. Well-timed; I just watched Beer Wars yesterday.

  2. However, Moonshot put out an inferior product. I wouldn't blame that totally on the FDA.

  3. Well written. Let me ask you what I ask a lot of people who are getting angry: What do we DO about it? Write another strongly worded letter to our representatives? They're not listening. We can't pay them enough. Letter to the editor? No one reads dead trees. Picket on the street corner? Join the crowd. Scream "I'm mad as hell" out the window?

  4. Good question. The only thing I know to do is speak my mind. Enough things written like this might influence enough people to make some sort of difference. But, I don't really know, most people just don't care.

  5. I think Anonymous has a great point. The NRA has a huge lobby with very deep pockets. They can afford to make a lot of noise. Sure, beer has a lobby but they're here to help the big 3 not the little guy. Our main way of protesting is to boycott products from BMC (which many of us already do) but that just causes them to work against small brewers to create laws, such as those that prohibit self-distribution, that act as a barrier to entry. BMC is seeing their market share, while still huge, dwindle each year and instead of adapting their business models they just push the craft brewers around. It's easier that way.
    Also, there aren't enough of "us" to really make a huge difference. Too many people just blindly purchase BMC products. As long as nobody messes with their Bud Light you won't here much of a fuss from the everyday beer drinker. Think of it like coffee; 90% (no, this number is not based on hard data, it's just a guess) of coffee drinkers drink Folgers, Maxwell house, Starbucks, etc. Do you think they'd really give a damn if the boutique coffee makers were struggling and being pushed around? Not as long as they can get their Folgers.

  6. The one thing people fail to realize is that the entire country operates on capitalism. Consumers rule. If we stop giving money to these companies that puppet our Congress and local governments, then they have no power. The problem is it will mean that we are inconvenienced in some way by finding an alternative. Most people aren't willing to put up with the inconvenience whether it's driving too far or not looking cool in front of your faux hawk sportin friends. All of our jobs are getting shipped overseas yet we all go to Wally World and buy the cheap crap made in China. Why because it's cheaper and more convenient. We don't think about how Uncle Jim's job was sent to China and made your $3.00 toy you just purchased at Wally World. What was the real cost? Then all of this greed is translated into our government leaders. We become too complacent and beleive there is nothing we can do. No one is held accountable in this country any more, retail/corporations/politicians. Well nothing will change if we keep giving money to them.

  7. P.S. The lady trying to hustle moonshot deserved to fail. Trying to sell out at the end. Well that's what happens to sell outs. Stop trying to ride the coat tails of real craft brew by selling some gimmick.

  8. I think we need an attitude change, the lady from Moonshot very well could have "deserved to fail" or "made an inferior product". What I'm saying is that virtue shouldn't matter. We're just looking for a reason to say she deserved to go out of business. Maybe she would have or wouldn't have. The fact is she did and did because of a regulation that does no good whatsoever. We should be mad about that not discussing the virtue of her company. We should be mad that 800 people were inconvenienced by a DUI checkpoint not happy that 15 people (or whatever) were caught with a DUI. Thousand of people get their nuts touched a day just to give the illusion of security at the airport. We have rights and we let these people trample on our rights and then think of justifications for them to trample on them. We should be making them fight for it a little bit.

  9. Bull E. Vard has penned a very well written piece here...but it's not just about beer. It's about corrupt politicians who use large sums of corporate donations to illegally influence markets to the favor of those who give the most.

    Really nothing new in that sense, but for anyone in govt to target such a miniscule consumer product in the name of the public good is absurd. Big Macs, foods laden with high fructose corn syrup, and meat products loaded with steroids are allowed to flourish. Hell, up until last week corn producers were subsidized by our very own gub'ment so they could put their corn in our cars as well.

    Our government has been doing this for decades. They're assholes and will always be. Americans can smoke tobacco until their lungs fail, but cannot enjoy marijuana...due to politics, not health.

    At this point I don't see a whole lot of positive with our governement, but we're stuck with it, just like beer consumers in Wisconsin are with one less brewery.

  10. Great article Bull. This was a pretty big deal a while back when the FDA first announced it. The Brewer's Association went on the offensive big time. Originally, they wanted to ban all beer with caffeine and the BA freaked out. They pointed out that there was a long history of brewers making beer with things like coffee and chocolate and any caffeine content was incidental, it was done for flavor. That is not the case with Four Loko. The Brewer's Association made a big stink, sent out a call to action to their members and the ruling was modified. We can still drink Schlafly Coffee Stout and Great Divide Chocolae Oak aged Yeti.

    You are right that as craft beer drinkers, we need to fight for our right to consume beer as freely as possible. That is not something we should ever take for granted because there are many people that want to take that right away. We may not have the NRA like the gun people do, but we are not in the same boat as smokers either.

    Thanks to Charlie Papazian and the beer advocates that have followed him, we have the Brewers Association. There work may not be as visible as what the NRA does and they may not be as powerful, but I promise you they are fighting just as hard. For those who do not know, the BA is THE trade association for American breweries. Their mission is to promote and protect small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts. If you want to fight government interference in your ability to consume beer, you need to support the Brewers Association. Here are a few of the things they are working on right now: http://www.brewersassociation.org/pages/government-affairs/current-issues

    How do you help? That's the fun part. Join the American Homebrewer's Association, attend the Great American Beer Festival, and support your Local Brewer.