Weekend Tastings and the Joy of Gov’t. Regulation

So I was trying to get this stuff posted last night, but I had some issues with our internet…

I’ll be doing a rare Friday Night Tasting May 9th from 5-8 PM. I’ll be pouring the Gouden Carolus Grand Cru Van De Kaiser from 2000, 2004 and 2007.

This is going to be something of a ‘make-up’ tasting since I was trying to do this one a couple of weeks ago, but that got nixed when the ’00 and ’04 didn’t show from my distributor. This led to me getting far more worked up than the situation deserved and got me in a little hot water with the distributor that I get the beer from. You see, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we have what’s known in the business as a “three-tier system”. That means in order for you, the consumer, to purchase a sixer of beer there has to be an entity that imports the beer into the state, buying it directly from the producer. After that they distribute the beer, meaning they sell it to retailers and restaurants. After these middle-men and the government get their cut of money and taxes they deign to allow the average citizen to purchase the product they wish to buy.

As I understand it, this system came to be after the repeal of Prohibition. Essentially, it is an alcohol tax without actually having an alcohol tax. On its own I don’t necessarily have much of an issue with the system except for it seeming awful Puritanical and greedy. But then again, this is America and the Commonwealth of Virginia to boot, so…

My real issue is that distributors purchase “rights” to sell certain beers within certain areas of the state, or for the entire state itself. As a business practice, this is done to ensure that, say, two distributors who handle Sam Adams don’t undercut each other in the same marketplace. Although where the damn problem with that is is beyond me. You see, in practice these Rights create little monopolies, wherein the restaurant or retailer (such as yours truly) is forced to buy a product from a certain company regardless of their pricing or regard for their customers. If you guessed this is a snapshot of the situation I ran into a couple weeks ago, you are correct.

I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to spend the vast majority of my (not nearly as big as it could be) budget on product from one company, only to have the beer I need, that I’ve promised my customers that I would have, sent to some other shop hours away because (are you ready?) they took their delivery sooner. No one gave me the heads up that “Hey, other guys want this stuff, maybe you should take the delivery early”. No. Just sent it out and scolded me like I’m supposed to know.

But that’s what comes along with “Rights” in the three-tier system. You get the right to sell a certain breweries products and with that you get the right to do pretty much whatever you feel like with it. It’s great for them: they can go ahead and not worry about people skills or customer service when hiring, because it doesn’t matter! The customer has no choice but to give their money to the distributor! I could call in an order and they could go ahead and say “Go fuck yourself” and I’d still have to pay them if I wanted to have the stuff in stock that I need to compete with every goddamn chain and big-box store trying to put guys like me out of work!

I’m using this situation as an example: The distributor and I have both said what we wanted to say to each other, and I’m ordering as usual. Really, what choice do I have? It’s not like they have competition. My rep from them and I are cool; I’ve known the guy for a while and it wasn’t all his fault. Bygones and all that stuff you need to say so that people don’t think you’re an uppity retail guy who thinks he’s more important than he is. Trust me, dealing with distributors on a daily basis lets you know exactly how important you are. All I want to say is that there is a word that my mom uses way too often: asinine. It’s not that she uses it too often because it doesn’t apply; she uses it too often because there’s so much in this world that is against all common sense that it seems a shame to throw around such a great descriptor.

The three-tier system and the distributor “Rights” monopolies are asinine. I wish I had a widget that you could click and hear my mom say the word just so you get an idea of how it feels. Asinine.


Anyway, Saturday I’ll be pouring from 12-5 PM as usual. I’ve got Weyerbacher Muse (a cool Belgian-style Saison), Rogue Mom Hefeweizen, the new Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale and Dogfish Head Immort Ale.

Come by if you’re in the hood. Until next time.

Cheers,

Beermonger

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3 responses to “Weekend Tastings and the Joy of Gov’t. Regulation

  1. I came across your blog on Technorati. Nice site layout. I will stop by and read more soon.

    Mike Harmon

  2. Interesting. I can’t say I’m a fan at the mandatory 3-tier system either. I’m trying to create a website that can allow people to purchase those unreachable beers in their area, and I must say it’s not easy.

  3. Hi Tony,

    Sorry to be out of touch for so long. The way the system is set up is skewed heavily toward those already established in each state (obviously). Factor in shipping laws and regs (a whole other can of worms, believe me) and it’s tough. Some states are just cut off. If you find a way to make it happen let me know, I’d love to get behind it!

    Beermonger

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