Free Craft Beer!

30BEER-articleLargeCRAFT breweries may be a big story in the media these days, but they face much tougher challenges than most other small businesses.

Take the rules governing how beer is distributed, known as franchise laws, which were written decades ago and today are being used to limit consumer choice by keeping small and start-up breweries from moving easily into new markets.

Almost every state franchise law demands that breweries sign a strict contract with a single distributor in a state — the so-called three-tiered system. The contracts not only prevent other companies from distributing a company’s beers, but also give the distributor virtual carte blanche to decide how the beer is sold and placed in stores and bars — in essence, the distributor owns the brand inside that state.

This model was enacted in the 1970s, when the industry was a lot different: Back then there were fewer than 50 brewing companies in America and 5,000 distributors. Many small distributors carried beer only from one large brewer, and they needed protection in case the brewer they represented wanted to pull its product.

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Beer Man: Solstice D’hiver Disappoints as a Barleywine

dieuBrasserie Dieu du Ciel, St-Jerome, Quebec, Canada

To all the microbreweries out there: OK, I get it. You can put Cascade hops into any beer style you want.

Not content to fill the shelves with thousands of American pale ale and American India pale ale beers that taste like pine and grapefruit, you are now making every style in the world taste like that. These beers should have a label on them that reads, “Rated PG.”

But know this: You are not breaking new ground. You are not being hip. Three thousand breweries before you have made PG-tasting porters, barleywines, weissbiers, imperial stouts, Belgian ales, etc.

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