Thursday, July 31, 2014

Single Bottle Sales Bans

Bans on the Sale of Single Bottles of Alcohol. To myself and like minded people this concept is close to the top of the pile when it comes to misguided responses to our assumed alcohol abuse problems. It's on the table at a lot of New Zealand city councils, including Auckland.

It begs the question, has this been tried before? Turns out it has.

1. Washington D.C. has been dabbling with a similar ban in various parts of their city for years. The benefits are far from clear. Rates of certain petty offences fell, then rose. Manufacturers quickly put drinks into two and three packs, sparking moves to ban those as well and suggesting that the law-makers in question somehow hadn't seen that coming, further questioning their grasp on reality. But as this story shows, the last laugh probably belongs to the neighbouring districts who are exempt from this particular rule.

2. Sacramento created such a ban way back in 1996 for big chunks of their city. According to this story, one of the main effects has been that the "craft beer revolution" of the last twenty years has passed these areas by. Again, there's mention of the boon created for businesses outside the affected zone.

Of course both stories are written from a fairly sceptical point of view and there may even be an alternate universe out there in which bans on single bottle sales aren't a completely daft idea. But there are some important lessons that should be unarguable:
1. The bans will invite manufacturers and retailers to adapt and get around the intent of the rules.
2. They will inevitably create economic opportunities for anyone with a way of circumventing them.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Vermont and the Right to Sample

Vermont is often cited in lists of US states with high ratios of breweries to people and the high quality of those breweries. But it looks like they have only just repealed a particularly silly law that might have held back the development of their beer culture.

Apparently it was illegal to offer tasting trays of beer in a restaurant. It was full glasses or nothing. No sign of an explanation for such an absurd and arbitrary rule, but the recent news stories covering its repeal make it clear that it was enforced, and workers faced fines for breaching it. More here, with the added bonus of watching a politician express remorse for drinking Bud.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Jester King vs the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission

At the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver this year, time was taken during proceedings on the first morning to present the Brewers Association's "Defence of the Industry Award". Normally I'd find an award with a title like that a little cheesy, but in 2014 the award was well named and well deserved. The recipient was Ron Extract of Jester King Brewery in Texas.

Until a couple of years ago, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code banned breweries from telling customers where they could find their beer. It also had rules about labelling that defied all accepted international standards. These rules said that any beer under 4% ABW (alcohol by weight) had to be labelled a lager, even if it was an ale, and anything over 4% had to be labelled an ale, even if it was a lager. And they weren't allowed to state the alcohol percentage in any other way.

Jester King took the TABC to court over their own code and won. From here it looks like a fantastic victory for the rights of brewers and consumers. And, dare I say it, it looks like a victory for common sense.

As if to show just how fearless Jester King and its people are, Ron Extract (apparently his real name) used his acceptance speech to make some pointed comments about the rules surrounding the rights that distributors in Texas have at the expense of brewers. There's a good chance that the targets of his fresh complaints were in the audience at the time.

Gender Discrimination

There's almost no end to the number of stories we could post about New Zealand's liquor laws. We'll start with a simple one. While it's common to lament the farce that was 6pm closing, we don't talk so much about another legal constraint that covered much the same period - the ban on female bar staff. Or as they were known in the 20th century, barmaids.

It was brought in in 1910. Women already working in bars were allowed to stay on and apparently a register of state-recognised barmaids existed so women could work without fear of sudden arrest. But no new female staff could be recruited, so it must have been weird for a woman in a profession knowing that her retirement or death was a pre-requisite for the law to take full effect.

Before anyone from Australia scoffs at this one, it should be pointed out that Victoria and South Australia had similar bans.

The ban stayed in place longer than you might think. We'd had colour TV for three years before it was finally lifted in 1976, after a period of 15 years while it was relaxed to allow women over 25 to work in a bar.