This is Why Beer Laws Suck

There’s an interesting article on the Denver Edition of Westworld.com about an unnamed restaurant in Colorado’s Lower Highlands that was serving “contraband” beers from New Glarus.

The bar manager Mike Henderson hails from Madison, Wisconsin, and has a pipeline back to the land of cheese and sausage that allows him to get a steady stream of New Glarus’ wonderful fruity delights, like their Wisconsin Belgian Red and their Raspberry Tart.

These tasty treats were put on the menu, where a bootleg 750ml bottle would set you back $22.00, which isn’t bad considering it’s an ungettable beer being served in a restaurant. 

It was all fun and games for about six weeks until the restaurant’s lawyer figured out what was happening, and Henderson was ordered to cease and desist before the restaurant got in hot water with Johnny Law.  He ceased (and I suppose he desisted as well), and wound up giving away his excess supply of New Glarus beers to his friends for the holidays. It looks like Mr. Henderson is a good friend to have indeed!

I know the laws are there for a reason, but it’s stuff like this that makes me nuts.  How cool would it be to show up in a restaurant in Colorado or Miami or Vermont and find something like a New Glarus Belgian Red on the menu?!  It’s a beer geek’s dream, and one that’s officially illegal, but it is certainly a victimless “crime.”  I know things probably won’t ever change, but this is another example of how the arcane system of laws that regulate the distribution and production of adult beverages simply sucks.

The only good thing these laws have provided us with was the premise for Smokey & The Bandit, and while it’s a cheeseball classic, it’s not enough to make me (east bound and) down with the program.

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Categories: Beer, News

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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34 Comments on “This is Why Beer Laws Suck”

  1. January 6, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    I don’t know what is more pathetic this law of the cult following for Fat Tire

    • January 6, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

      Amen on the Fat Tire!

    • January 6, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

      Yeah, there was a blurb about a NYC bar that promised to serve Fat Tire at their opening and I thought “why would you do that?!” I guess it’s been around long enough to be grandfathered in as a good craft beer, but there’s so many better beers out there now.

    • johnking82
      January 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

      awesome. simply awesome.

    • January 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

      I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Fat Tire is the Budweiser of craft beer, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

      It really ticks me off when I go out of state and someone tells me they like Colorado beers and they’ve only had Fat Tire.

      • January 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

        I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people complaining because they can’t get Fat Tire in a state. My response is typically along the lines of, “Really? out of all the craft beers made today, Fat Tire is the one you want?”

  2. johnking82
    January 6, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    This actually goes on all the time, even at a place here in KY. I know of a certain establishment which sells beer that isn’t distributed here in Kentucky…a no-no. There are other reasons, but I choose not to go there because of it.

    • January 6, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

      I’d love to drink bootleg beer at a restaurant.

      • beercommdood
        January 6, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

        I’d love for “bootleg beer” to be a term of the past.

  3. January 6, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    But imagine if selling bootleg beers was legal. Smaller yet popular breweries such as New Glarus and Russian River, with limited production capacity would likely find themselves with a huge supply problem. I’d be willing to bet if this sort of stuff was legal, you’d suddenly have bar owners from all over the country flocking to the source of these sought-after beers and buying up large amounts of the beers (if not all of it) and heading back home to sell them at ridiculously inflated prices to their customers. As a result, store shelves would be empty, local customers wouldn’t be able to find the beers, and you’d be taking the distribution decisions out of the hand of breweries, putting them in a situation where they might never be able to meet demand.

    If I owned a brewery, and I decided that the financially responsible thing to do was only supply beer in my home state, I’d be quite annoyed that my beer was being sold at inflated prices all over the country and my loyal customers couldn’t find the beer at the local stores. Such sales are not predictable, and it would be next to impossible to predict company growth (and hence invest in brewery updates that would increase production) based on random dudes from across the country rolling up to the bottle shop with a U-Haul truck.

    Just sayin’…

    • January 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

      I agree with your reasoning to a point, but I’d like it if things like this were decriminalized – technically illegal (enough to stop it from being a big business) but rarely enforced. That would keep it at the cottage industry level, which probably wouldn’t interfere with the distribution wishes of the breweries.

      • Jeff
        January 6, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

        The law sucks in a certain regard, but I am in agreement with Chris. Many smaller breweries can’t even match the demands of their current markets as things stand now. What I’d like to see is limited availability outside of core markets, perhaps via mail-order? I can’t buy something like Pliny, or whatever, so either I find someone to trade with, or I try my luck with the auction market, and pay through the nose. It would be great to be able to legally purchase a couple of bottles, as a consumer, at a reasonable retail price, plus shipping. If the breweries could legally do this, I believe it would be great for the health of the entire craft beer community.

        • January 6, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

          Agreed. there should be a way for a dedicated craft beer fan to get reliably good beer (not eBay hit-or-miss) even if there’s a premium.

        • Jeff
          January 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

          I do believe, however, that the vintage market should be wide open, for beers that lend themselves to aging.

      • January 6, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

        I think I’ve got the answer to this quandary–Beer-cations! There are Eco-vacations and Evo-vacations and religious pilgrimages and local beer tours; why shouldn’t there be a dedicated set of folks providing trips across N. America for the express purpose of tasting regional beers? One year one could take a N.E. (i.e., NY, NH, VT, ME, QC, NL, NS, etc.); and the next, say, a Mid-west trip (WI, IL, ON, PE, yadda-yadda); and so on. Hell there could probably be one each just for CO and CA; and one that included OR and WA would be a sure winner.

        If there is a demand, someone will step up to fill it–its up to us.

        • January 6, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

          I’m a huge fan of beercations! If I want to try all the rare beers from a region, I go to that region. About a year ago I took a Michigan trip and visited Founders, Bells, Arcadia, and Dark Horse. Two months ago, I visited Lagunitas, Russian River, and 21st Amendment.

          When I’m at home, I love to drink local beer…supports local brewers and the local economy. I really think too many people become fixated on certain beers and breweries due to popularity/rankings, or using the rare beers as status symbols, and they lose sight of what they have in their own backyard. Is Pliny great? Yes, it’s absolutely fantastic. But there are also other fantastic IPA’s that are much easier to get at home through normal distribution channels. I don’t need to spend a fortune so I can drink Pliny every day.

          And if you don’t have great local options? Then get involved in the local community and help push for improvements. Support your local breweries…they almost always have an open ear when it comes to loyal customers.

        • January 6, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

          Hey Chris, in re your beercations, good on ya! But imagine how much more fun it would be doing the rounds w/ a bunch of the folks from B&WB or Girls Pint Out. It’d be a stitch!

        • January 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

          That’s what my blog’s all about, going to brewpubs and breweries wherever we travel, especially here in Colorado; taking a road trip specifically to visit the breweries around the state.

          On the distribution issue, I have to side with Chris. For example, I feel for everyone in other states who can’t get Colorado beers because the breweries had to pull out due to over-demand. If the laws changed, it would be exactly like Chris said, thereby hurting the locals whom the beer was originally brewed for in the first place (in most instances).

    • johnking82
      January 6, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

      preach on!

    • January 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

      I’m with you, Chris. Of course, there’s this sense of entitlement beer enthusiasts have that think they should have access to every beer no matter where they live. If you want New Glarus, go to Wisconsin or ask someone who lives there or might be going there to bring you some back.

      • johnking82
        January 6, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

        I think if this wasn’t New Glarus, a brewery near and dear to Jim’s heart, he wouldn’t be as much of an advocate.

        I just got back from my MA, VT, and NH beercation and my wife still hates me.

        • Don
          January 6, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

          Yeah…you should expect more of that, and unfortunately for her, so should she! 😦

    • January 6, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      So you’re saying I need to move into the District of Columbia, eh? Sounds like a haven!

      • Don
        January 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

        Yeah, this was in the news about 4 months ago. Since DC isn’t a state there are no state liquor laws. No three tier system, it is just like it should be everywhere.

        • January 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

          The Wild, Wild East! I guess if I was a lawmaker, I’d make sure the stupid ones didn’t apply where I work, too.

      • January 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

        Make sure your wallet is full before you make the move to DC!
        http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/articles/41653/economies-of-ale/

        • January 6, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

          The going rate of “bootlegged” beers in DC via a store that shall remain nameless:
          RR Blind Pig 12/19/11 $14.99
          Kern River Just Outstanding IPA $19.99
          Alpine Nelson $14.99
          Stone/Alchemist/Ninkasi More Brown than Black $7.99
          AleSmith IPA $12.99; Speedway Stout $21.99

  4. January 6, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    Jim said “I guess if I was a lawmaker, I’d make sure the stupid ones didn’t apply where I work, too.” That’s why Congressman will spend so much time trying to legislate against sports blackouts in the DC area.

    Having said that, my experience suggests that starting a brewery in/near DC isn’t quite so easy, as witness the problems Logan Shaw Brewing Company–who was supposed to resume the production of Wild Goose beers this past year–has faced.

  5. January 9, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    I realize I’d be supporting illegal activities and such (victimless ones, as you say), but if there was a restaurant or bar in STL that served New Glarus products, I’d become a regular. Even if they only served them for a few months until their lawyer told them to stop. Another place in NY got busted for serving New Glarus a few years ago, IIRC.

  6. January 9, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    If I could get New Glarus all the time, it would lose the mystique. I can drink Three Floyds and Sun King anytime I want so it’s my go to beer but it’s lost the magical allure that it might hold for someone out East or West. Regionality is key for craft beer. If it was all available everywhere, it takes the fun out of drinking your way across America.

    Girls Pint Out has actually helped friends plan a beer-cation before! We contacted our friends/resources in a particular state and were able to set up special private tours, reservations, and meet-n-greets for the vacation goers. Very fun!

  7. January 9, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    John, the NYC bar was Mad River Bar & Grille. They were fined $20k for selling Spotted Cow.

    http://gothamist.com/2009/11/27/sla_raids_bar_for_selling_wisconsin.php

  8. Paul Brown
    January 9, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Nobody has mentioned a big reason these “Anti-bootleg” laws are in effect, the tax dollars. All beer, wine and alcohol sold in a state has paid their respective taxes before hitting the shelves or on-premise establishments. Big amoiunts of money involved. Most states would love to have every craft beer coming into their state for the tax money!!

    • oliver klosoff
      January 9, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

      They would, but BMC lobbyists would grease enough politicians to keep them out.

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