Today, America is brewing the best beer in the world, and lots of it. In 1978, there were less than 100 American breweries. Now, there are more than 2500! Craft beer sales consistently grow around 15 percent annually while better known brands like Budweiser are hemorrhaging market share.
Florida’s beer distributors benefit from this trend, because craft beer has better margins. What surprises many folks is the fact that distributors have invested heavily in promoting the brands of craft brewers. They enthusiastically buy, store, market, sell, and ship craft beer to retailers who, in turn, sell to the public. Distributors market craft beer through festivals, dinner pairings, and tastings, and they do all of this under the three-tier system of regulation.
The three-tier system has fostered the growth of craft brewers but in spite of their meteoric rise some are attempting to convince legislators that Florida’s alcohol regulations are antiquated, “Prohibition-era” rules. This is patently false and dangerous.
Florida’s alcohol regulatory system was implemented after prohibition, not during or before, and it has been consistently updated as recently as last year. Such changes include the creation of brewpubs, micro-distilleries and new rules addressing coupons, licensing, and underage drinking.
Nevertheless, it is helpful to understand the history of the alcohol industry. There was a time when brewers often sold direct to the public through retailers they owned or controlled called “tied houses.” This led to aggressive sales tactics, deep discounts, and high-volume drinking with the end result being large-scale addiction, domestic violence, and worse. Such social problems fueled a national backlash leading to passage of the 18th amendment to the Constitution and the prohibition of alcohol.
When prohibition was repealed in 1933, the federal government empowered states to regulate alcohol based on the values of individual citizens and communities. As a result, layers of protection known as the three-tier system, were created to safeguard against these abuses. The three-tier system prevented vertical integration of the alcohol industry in Florida and most other states. Under this system, many dangers of over-consumption were reduced, increasing the acceptance of beer as a hallmark of American leisure time and celebration.
The cycle of abuse and reform is not one we wish to repeat.
In 2012, Mothers’ Against Drunk Driving data showed 697 alcohol-related driving fatalities, 53,664 DUI arrests and 28,689 DUI convictions in Florida. These figures, though alarming, constitute an improvement over years past—a success achieved through tighter enforcement of existing laws and regulations.
In spite of the obvious value of the three-tier system, irrational exuberance over the craft beer revolution threatens to unravel the layers of protection it provides to our children and communities. Beer distributors will work with legislators to allow innovations sought by craft brewers, such as the 64-ounce “growler” container but they will oppose the destruction of the three-tier system and return of the pre-prohibition “tied-house.”