NOTE: When I moved to a new site, this “Beer Wars” series was mangled/destroyed during the move. I’ve reconstructed it by copying/pasting another copy of the original posts. I also lost the comments in their original form. I’ve copied/pasted the comments, but had to do so under my own name. So although it looks as though I’m the only commenter, I’m not. In each case, I’ve identified the original commenter.
Finally, there’s the three-tier system.
The film portrayed the system as a weapon wielded by evil corporate giants who use it to hold down little guys like Sam and Greg, and to prevent Americans from gaining access to “real” beer.
I disagree.(*1) It’s not that simple, and to understand why, we need to know something about the history of the three-tier system. I know what you’re saying:
“Yeah, yeah. The 3-tier system was created after Prohibition. So what? The past is irrelevant. All that matters now is that the 3-tier system allows wholesalers to exercise too much power over beer distribution.”
Again, I disagree. The original reason for the 3-tier system is as relevant today as it was in 1933, and is connected to why craft brewers have a hard time getting their message across to consumers.
So. Short history lesson. Before Prohibition, breweries could own saloons and use them as retail outlets for their beer. Nearly every brewer owned one, and big brewers owned many of them. The prohibitionists believed that if they could outlaw the saloons, the brewers would have no place to sell beer and they would go out of business. (It’s not a coincidence that the group that spearheaded the drive to ban alcohol was named the Anti-Saloon League.) So they launched a (successful) campaign against the saloon, painting them as a threat to decency, law, order, and the family; as dens of iniquity that harbored criminal activity, such as gambling and prostitution.
The Prohibitionists made their point, and an entire generation of Americans grew up fearing the power of the saloon. So when Prohibition ended, Americans wanted to avoid the return of this alleged evil.To that end, lawmakers at the federal and state level passed hundreds of laws aimed at constructing barriers between Americans and alcohol: Sunday closing laws, the state-control of the sale of alcohol, liquor-by-the-drink laws, the power for localities to remain “dry” and so forth.
I wrote about this in a longish op-ed piece for U.S. News a few months ago, so I won’t repeat myself. You can read that piece here.
Next: The 3-tier system as vehicle for demonization.