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How a Bill Could Make It Hard to Buy Your Favorite Beer

on 29/03/11 at 5:18 pm


Beer distributors and producers are warring in Washington. What’s at stake? The right to ship beer straight to consumers.

Alcohol can have a blurring effect. Especially when it comes to politics.

“When politicians look at the beer industry, it doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or Republican, a libertarian or vegetarian, there’s something for you to embrace,” said Craig Purser, the president and CEO of the National Beer Wholesalers of America.

Purser was emceeing the second day of NBWA’s legislative conference, which goes through Wednesday and has brought hundreds of beer wholesalers to Washington. The conference is dominated by the debate over a bill that would give states more power to regulate alcohol distribution. The NBWA supports the bill, while independent beer producers and wineries oppose it. The point of contention is whether producers can ship their wares directly to people who want to buy it, or whether they should have to use the middleman—wholesalers who now dominate the market.

The wholesalers want to maintain their nearly complete share of the market, and the producers want to have more options to distribute.

And there is evidence that Purser is right about the blurring effect. The bill—reintroduced in the House on March 17th—is a rare example of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, attracting many cosponsors from both ends of the political spectrum, from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., to Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. The dispute has also brought together disparate groups like the Progressive Policy Institute and the anti-tax FreedomWorks to oppose the legislation.

The bill would help consolidate the power of some of the most powerful middlemen in the country: alcohol wholesalers. Wholesalers are responsible for bringing 99 percent of all alcohol from producers to retailers and bars. This state-sanctioned monopoly has allowed wholesalers to become something of a marketing juggernaut, earning many of their owners billions of dollars, and allowing for the creation of heavy-hitting lobbies like the NBWA.

{Full story via The Atlantic}

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