Connecticut Lawmakers Try to Legalize Self-Service Beer Bars

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Self-service beer bars have grown in popularity in recent years as customers enjoy the experience of being able to pour their own brew from a tap. Numerous states still prohibit this type of self-service , however. According to WTNH.com, Connecticut lawmakers may finally legalize self-service for wine and beer in the Nutmeg State:

Imagine getting your beer or glass of wine like you would a fountain soda.  It may soon be a reality in Connecticut

The bill that would allow self-service alcohol machines at bars just got the thumbs up from the House of Representatives. 

You would get a card from the bartender and swipe it at the machine…

Read more here.


R Street's Kevin Kosar Interviewed About Moonshine

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R Street’s Kevin Kosar was interviewed by Live Science about mooshine and whether it is safe to drink. As Kosar noted, Moonshine can be made from a variety of products and it’s most likely to exist in places that put up high bariers to legalized alcohol:

What is moonshine? Broadly, moonshine is any type of distilled liquor that's manufactured without government oversight, though some argue that moonshine can be labeled as such only when it is made with certain ingredients or comes from specific geographic regions, experts told Live Science.

People all over the world make and drink moonshine, particularly in places where alcohol is illegal or where legal alcohol is prohibitively expensive or hard to get…

ngredients for moonshine vary widely depending on what's available. In the early 20th century, American moonshiners typically made their brews from corn mash. But moonshine is also made from grapes, plums or apricots (Armenia), barley (Egypt), palm tree sap (Myanmar), bananas (Uganda) and cashew fruit (India), said Kevin Kosar, author of "Moonshine: A Global History" (Reaktion Books, 2017).

"It's just basic chemistry. If you can tease sugar out of something, you're on your way to making a drink," Kosar told Live Science…

Even when moonshine doesn't contain toxic levels of methanol, it's impossible to tell how strong it is — an uncertainty that could lead to accidental alcohol poisoning The best way for drinkers to stay safe is to give illicit alcohol a wide berth, Kosar said..

"Unless you're a close friend of the person producing the moonshine and have absolute trust in their competence to produce it, don't drink it," he warned.

Read the whole article here.

Congress Tries (Again) to Allow the Post Office to Ship Alcohol

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Shipping alcohol is notoriously complicated in modern day America. This is especially odd given that, uh, everything else in the universe seems to be a mere 2-day-shipment away. While private carriers and individuals states have complicated rules around alcohol shipping, the United States Postal Service forbids it from being shipped at all. A determined member of Congress is trying once again to fix this anachronistic ban:

The USPS Shipping Equity Act (H.R. 2517) was introduced by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA). She said the bill would end the Prohibition-era restriction that prohibits the Postal Service from shipping alcohol.

“In 2016, California was America’s top destination for the direct shipment of wine, yet consumers and manufacturers are prohibited from using the U.S. Postal Service to ship or deliver these everyday products,” Speier said…

This is not the first time Speier has made this effort. In fact, it’s not the third.

Her bill was last introduced in 2017 but failed to advance. It was also introduced in the two sessions of Congress prior to 2017. She obviously really wants to see the Postal Service start shipping alcohol, but there historically has been little interest in Congress to pass such a law. Maybe the fourth time is the charm?…

Read more at FedSmith.com.

D.C. Mayor Proposes More Booze Reforms

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Washington, D.C.’s alcohol laws are better than many places, but the District still has its fair share of rules that hurt producers and consumers. According to DCist.com, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser is now proposing a new slate of reforms aimed at helping the city’s growing craft alcohol scene:

Mayor Muriel Bowser has proposed several changes to make it easier for local alcohol manufacturers to sell their wares, including allowing wineries and distilleries to ship products directly to consumers and raising the allowable amount of alcohol in wine. They would be the latest in a slew of legislative changes over the past eight years that have allowed craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries to flourish in D.C. after five dry decades…

With the Manufacturer and Pub Permit Parity Amendment Act of 2019, Bowser is now proposing a series of tweaks that continue to respond to the city’s evolving craft alcohol scene, particularly its burgeoning cider scene.

For one, it would allow for higher-proof wines (cider is considered a wine under federal and local law)—raising it from 15 percent to 21 percent.

“We have several wine pubs currently that would like to make cider that’s slightly more than 15 percent alcohol by volume. We thought it made sense to bring the District in line with other jurisdictions currently,” Moosally says. Wine can be up to 24 percent alcohol under federal law, 22 percent under Maryland law, and 21 percent in Virginia, Moosally says.

The new legislation would also allow wineries and distilleries to ship their products directly to consumers (currently only breweries can do so.)…

Read the rest here.

Why Are Dry Counties Still a Thing?

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We focus a lot here at DrinksReform.org on the many, many inane alcohol laws around the country. But we shouldn’t lose focus of perhaps the most absurd, no-way-this-is-true-in-2019 alcohol rule of them all: There’s still places in America where it is straight up illegal to have booze. Drinks writer Wayne Curtis has a fun piece for The Daily Beast on dry countries:

The population of Beaver County, Oklahoma, is 5,315 and deeply divided. In a vote last year to determine whether alcohol sales should be made legal—it’s been a dry county for more than a century—the wets initially prevailed, voting in legal liquor by a scant five votes. But then the provisional ballots were tallied. And…the prohibitionists carried the day. So Beaver County remains alcohol-free. It is the last and only county in Oklahoma where you can’t buy a legal drink…

“Dry counties” exist as a sort feral anachronism—like phone booths and video stores. They appeared in response to perceived social or economic need, and when those needs dissipated, they were left behind, like flotsam from a flood nobody remembers. We are a nation that’s pretty good at building laws, and pretty lousy at dismantling them.

And so dry counties persist—today an estimated 18 million people are unable to buy a legal drink where they live. Mostly these persist in the south, and a map of dry counties overlaid with one of the Bible Belt, not surprisingly, shows considerable overlap. (Although the penchant for dryness fades as you get closer to the Gulf of Mexico.) The states with the most dry counties are Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee. Fact: you can still get arrested for possession of alcohol in some dry counties, as a 69-year-old man in Culliman, Alabama, learned recently…

Read more here.


Congressional bill would eliminate excise tax on Kombucha

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Kombucha traditionally has small amounts of alcohol in it, which can make it a tricky case for federal excise taxes on alcohol if it rises above 0.5% alcohol by volume. A U.S. Senator recently introduced legislation to help protect the drink from these taxes, according to Bend Bulletin:

A measure in Congress would help kombucha manufacturers by eliminating excise taxes on their products that contain more than 0.5% alcohol.

The bill, introduced by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, raises the limit on alcohol by volume for kombucha to 1.25% and makes the product exempt from excise taxes imposed on alcoholic beverages like beer…

Kombucha is a fermented product, created when sugar and yeast are combined. When kombucha is not kept cold, it continues to ferment, raising the alcohol level above 0.5% and making it subject to the excise tax, said Amelia Winslow, director of project management at Kombucha Brewers International, a nonprofit trade association.

“Commercial kombucha producers work hard to control their processes to achieve compliance,” Winslow said. “However, if there are gaps in the cold chain during distribution, authentic kombucha, which is a living food, can go slightly above this 0.5%.”

It doesn’t make sense to tax kombucha for exceeding that threshold, Winslow said…

Read more here.

NYC to Ban Alcohol Advertising on Public Property

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New York City has decided to entirely ban alcohol advertising on any public property, according to MSN.com, following the path of the NYC subway system. Despite this posture, venues that currently sell alcohol will be exempt:

New York City has banned alcohol advertising on city property, citing health risks posed by excessive drinking…

The ban, which takes effect immediately, applies to bus shelters, newsstands, Wi-Fi kiosks and recycling kiosks. Venues that are currently allowed to sell alcohol, such as restaurants, stadiums and concerts halls, are exempt.

Existing ads will be allowed to remain until their contracts end…

A Metropolitan Transportation Authority ban on advertising alcohol beverages on all New York City buses, subway cars and in stations took effect in January 2018.

Other U.S. cities that have moved to ban alcohol advertising on city property include Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles…

Read more here.

Where Did All The Bars and Taverns Go?

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This post was written by R Street Institute President Eli Lehrer.

Growing up in Chicago, I saw bars as a neighborhood institutions. Some served hot dogs or pizza puffs, but most were pure drinking places. As an adult, I’ve lived in Virginia, which requires all establishments with liquor licenses to have kitchens and derive at least 45 percent of sales from food and thus has no bars per se. Washington, D.C., where I’ve worked for 21 years now has a “tavern license” for places that want to emphasize drinks. But few exist. The Washingtonian magazine’s list of the Best Bars in Washington, D.C.includes only five District-located places that are bars without significant food menus. Indeed, many of the best known “bar” hangouts in the city like the Front Page and Union Pub have extensive menus. So, why?

Many obvious reasons don’t survive scrutiny. High D.C. rents can’t stop taverns alone since they thrive in places with even higher rents like San Francisco. Food produces another revenue and potential profit stream, of course, but that’s so everywhere. The non-family demographics of the city are similar to those of Manhattan, much of the Bay Area, Chicago’s North side, Seattle and dozens of other places with thriving bar scenes. And the idea that young professionals don’t like bars per se seems incorrect: alcohol use tends to decrease with age and people without families have more time to hang out at bars after work.

Instead, transience, immigration patterns and institutions seem to explain the District’s lack of bars. First transience. More  than 60 percent of the population of the District was born elsewhere and that percentage has risen in recent years. Only places with big retirement communities have as many transplants. Strong neighborhood institutions like taverns which must differentiate by vibe rather than menu (serving beer requires little skill and simple cocktails are hard to differentiate) aren’t going to thrive in places where people move.

The nature of immigration also matters. While D.C. did once attracted many people from Ireland, home to the world’s best-known pub culture, the city’s historic Irish neighborhood, Swampoodle now exists only in a park’s name. Modern D.C. attracts relatively few immigrants and the group of new arrivals most prominent as hospitality entrepreneurs--Ethiopians--come from a country with a large Muslim population and thus little bar culture.

Finally, the District’s unique Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) present a barrier with their de facto veto over new liquor licenses. This makes taverns’ entire business subject to an additional obstacle. My colleague Nick Zaiac points out that for an ANC member (each of whom represents about 2,000 people) helping to block a bar might add political capital in a way that it wouldn’t for a council member representing a larger district.

Bottom line: D.C.’s culture and its institutions just aren’t friendly to taverns. And this probably isn’t going to change.





Prohibition was Repealed Almost 90 Years Ago, but Congress is Still Praising its Progeny

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Written by R Street’s Jarrett Dieterle and cross-posted from R Street Institute.

At a time when confidence in Congress—and really all of Washington, D.C.—remains at an all-time low, congressional representatives seem more determined than ever to make Americans cynical. Perhaps nothing illustrates this more than a recent resolution concerning alcohol regulation that several legislators recently introduced. The resolution, which is ultimately toothless, seeks to “recognize … 85 years of successful State-based alcohol regulation.” Not only is the resolution a complete waste of time, it also fundamentally misunderstands the role regulation has played in the modern evolution of the alcohol industry.

As far as one can divine from its fluffy language, the resolution appears to operate primarily as a cheerleading vehicle for the three-tiered system of alcohol regulation. The system, which traces its heritage to the immediate aftermath of Prohibition, requires that each link in the alcohol distribution chain—producers, wholesalers and retailers—remain legally separate entities.

This mandate may seem unremarkable at first blush, but its importance cannot be overstated. Consider that everyday conveniences such as Apple Stores—in which Apple acts as both the producer and retailer of its goods in stores nationwide—are impossible in the alcohol space. The three-tiered system also lies at the heart of many antiquated and nonsensical alcohol laws that remain on our books today. For instance, notoriously silly laws like Indiana’s warm beer law (which forbids gas stations from selling refrigerated beer) and laws prohibiting the shipment of spirits to consumers are vestiges of the three-tiered system that have never been cleared away.

The theory behind the three-tiered system, as the congressional resolution itself notes, is to prevent vertical integration in alcohol markets. In other words, the aim is to thwart large producers from exercising direct control over distribution in a way that could lead to monopoly behavior. While fears about monopolies are hardly unsurprising—after all, several 2020 presidential candidates have already claimed they want to “make antitrust cool again”—these concerns are totally unsubstantiated in the modern alcohol marketplace.

We live in an unprecedented time in modern history when it comes to what we drink. The array of different spirits, beers, wines and ciders is seemingly endless—and only grows by the day. Consumers are also becoming more locally focused and selective, meaning that the chances of a few large industry players cornering the drinks market are less realistic than ever. Simply put, consumers want more options, not fewer. Such a fragmented marketplace makes monopolistic behavior tricky, if not impossible.

Instead of waxing poetic about the supposed virtues of an anachronistic system of regulation, politicians should be focusing on how to modernize and overhaul alcohol laws across the board. Some laws surrounding alcohol are certainly necessary—no one wants to legalize driving under the influence, for example—but the vast majority of alcohol rules have no connection to health and safety. Citizens are not made safer by laws that prohibit the sale of cold beer in gas stations or forbid them from having booze shipped to their door. (After all, if we can find a way to send prescriptions via mail, we can do the same for alcohol.)

To be fair, politicians frequently spend much of their time grandstanding. But if they’re going to do so, they should at least grandstand for something that makes sense.

C. Jarrett Dieterle is the director of commercial freedom at R Street Institute and the editor of DrinksReform.org.


Illinois On the Brink of More Distillery Freedom

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Several years ago, Illinois lawmakers enacted legislation that allowed craft breweries to self-distribute a small portion of their beer without having to go through a distributor. (Illinois has generally been on a bit of a reform kick in recent years when it comes to their alcohol laws). Now, several lawmakers are proposing to do the same for craft distillers in the Land of Lincoln. Illinois Policy has the story:

Craft beer’s popularity is being joined by its distilled cousin to become the “next big thing,” and the Illinois House just passed an update to state liquor laws so Illinois doesn’t miss the party.

A bill removing major hurdles for craft distilleries passed the state House, 108-2House Bill 2675 was backed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers including chief sponsor Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, chief cosponsors Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, and Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook…

Under the Liquor Control Act of 1934, Illinois mandates a “three-tier” liquor distribution system that separates producers, distributors and retailers. This bundle of laws protects the middle-man and ensures the functions of each tier don’t mix. Lawmakers moved to allow limited self-distribution for smaller beer brewers in 2011, and HB 2675 has a similar aim for craft liquor.

The ability to self-distribute has been vital to the craft brewery boom across Illinois, and craft distillers hope HB 2675 will bring them the same opportunities…

Read more here.