State Beer Laws Take Baby Steps in Right Direction

Why are these idiotic beer laws on the books in the first place?


Though nowhere is it hot enough to fry an egg on the ground, it sure felt like it across much of the country this week. No doubt many folks have sought and found cold solace in beer.

Depending on where you live, you might be able to take advantage of some good new laws on the books that have given you even more choices of where, what, and how to drink.

In New Jersey, for example, a new law will help brewpubs and craft brewers in the state expand their offerings.

"Specifically, the new law ups the amount of product that can be produced by a restricted license brewery (brewpub) from 3,000 to 10,000 barrels per year, and gives them access to the state's wholesale distribution system," reports the Ocean County Signal. "Limited license breweries (microbreweries) may now sell product for on-premises consumption at a licensed facility, and may sell limited amounts of beer for take-out at that facility as well."

That law is similar to a new one that came into force last month in Texas.

As the Houston Chronicle reports, brewpubs in the state can now sell to customers on site.

And under new laws that took effect on July 1, drinkers throughout Michigan and in parts of Maryland can now buy beer to go in refillable growler containers.

What's the big deal with growlers?

"Growlers are good," says Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, in an email. "Laws that accommodate growlers as a packaging option are a helpful step especially for small and independent craft brewers who often struggle with access to market."

When it comes to selling beer, that struggle, as I noted in a March column, appears largely to be getting a little easier.

But while all these good new laws represent great news for business and consumers alike, they also raise questions. Why the hell would states prevent breweries from selling beer to customers in the first place? Why are these idiotic laws on the books in the first place?

It's the usual combination of protectionism and the highly overrated, deeply flawed Twenty-First Amendment—which contains terrible prohibitionary language that has been used by states to restrict all manner of choices. (Section II is the problem. Remove it entirely and you have a great Amendment.)

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That's why many incomprehensible state and local laws still remain on the books—even in states I mentioned above that just reformed their laws.

Texas law, for example, still does not allow breweries to sell to-go beer to customers. Hence, no growlers.

And while you still can't fill growlers in some parts of Maryland, even those places where reforms are in place have seen a comedy of errors.

When one Annapolis seller attempted to apply for a local license to fill growlers, the Baltimore Sun reports, he found the city didn't offer the license even though state legislators had voted (in Annapolis) to permit growlers there.

And there's the added problem that reform does not always make for better laws. An "extremely awkward" and "annoying" new Utah law forces restaurant waitstaff "to confirm that customers intend to order food and not just drink" alcohol.

Good reforms, too, often fail. Pennsylvania is often cited as the best example of repeated efforts to reform an awful law–with good reason–but don't even get me started on the sheer idiocy of Utah's so-called "Zion curtain."

A few new good beer laws is reason enough to note how far we've come. But it's also a good time to reflect on how far we have to go to make sure brewers, restaurants, other sellers, and consumers alike have all the choices they want.