The Pennsylvania legislature is considering a bill that would loosen restrictions on beer sales. Under current rules, you can buy one or two six-packs at a time from a bar or a specially licensed deli, convenience store, or supermarket. You can also buy beer from distributors, but only in cases. When I was living in Pennsylvania (where I grew up and got my first job after college), the upshot was that you could choose between the meager, relatively expensive selection at a retail outlet or the bigger, cheaper selection at a distributor, but that only made sense if you wanted a lot of a particular beer. You could not go to a store and, say, pick an interesting selection of three different six-packs, as people in other states routinely do. The proposed changes would allow people to buy any configuration up to a case from a distributor and any configuration up to 18 bottles from a retail outlet.
This seems like good news not only for consumers but also for microbrewers, since it allows people to more easily sample a wider variety of beers in smaller quantities. Yet according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania's microbrewers (or some of them, at least) are worried about beer deregulation:
The Trogners [owners of Troegs Brewing, near Harrisburg], like many in Pennsylvania's community of 67 beer brewers, believe they could get slammed by what is termed a "beer reform" measure winding through the legislature.
It is intended to give Pennsylvania beer lovers more choice, including the ability finally to buy a six-pack conveniently.
But the proposal has sent waves of anxiety through state beer brewers—many of them family owned microbreweries—who fear it will give an edge to out-of-state brewing giants and cut into their much smaller profits.
In-state brewers, including the Trogners, don't mind the expanded access to six-packs.
The problem for many is the proposal to allow the sale of 12- to 18-packs of beer: Smaller breweries don't have the packaging equipment to produce those sizes. It would give larger breweries an even larger price advantage.
If you are a microbrewer trying to compete on price with flavorless, mass-produced swill like Budweiser, you might want to consider another line of work. Troegs produces a wide variety of tasty beers, so why should it worry about drinkers who buy 18-packs of Coors Light? Its competition is imported beers and other American microbrews, over which it does have a price advantage in Pennsylvania. Microbrewers, of all people, should be able to appreciate the virtues of greater consumer choice.
Jay Brooks considered the microbrew industry as a "long tail" phenomenon in the October 2006 issue of reason.
[Thanks to an anonymous reader whose email address I don't recognize for the tip.]