Filmmaking, Writing, Beer, Insularity, History, and Other Topics More-Or-Less Related to “Beer Wars,” Part 11

Part 1 — Part 2 — Part 3 — Part 4 — Part 5 — Part 6 — Part 7

Part 8 — Part 9 — Part 10 — Part 11 — Part 12 — Part 13

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.

*1: That doesn’t mean that I think the film was bad. As I noted earlier in this absurdly long discourse, I thought Anat’s film was first-rate. I disagree, however, with part of her “message.” It’s possible to praise the messenger and the medium and still disagree with the message.

3 thoughts on “Filmmaking, Writing, Beer, Insularity, History, and Other Topics More-Or-Less Related to “Beer Wars,” Part 11

  1. This comment was posted by Tony Comstock, who blogs at comstockfilms.comMy experience is people hate it when facts get in the way of their David v Goliath anti-corporate fairy tales.

  2. This comment was originally posted by Tim Beauchamp, who blogs at littlewinery.blogspot.comMaureen, I always start off reading your posts thinking that you are completely discounting the evils of the big producers or the conspiracies of the distributors. And to a large degree, you do show that they are not the pure evil entities that many of my fellow craft beer zealots (me included) paint them as being.But, as I read through your analysis, I think I am coming to understand what your bigger picture of the 3 tier environment. It doesn’t nicely fit into the David and Goliath or Good vs. Evil plot quite so simply.It seems that, though it has grown quite out-a-whack since the repeal of the 18th amendment, what we have in place is the system we chose to put there. Sure, distributors are an impediment to some producers getting to consumers, and there isn’t really rhyme or reason to the patchwork of laws and regulations that brewers need to navigate to get their products to market. But this is the system we put in place because of our puritan guilt drilled into us about the evils of alcohol.There are certainly bad players in place in all three tiers and I wish that the dismantling of arbitrary regulations that are outdated and kind of silly would happen at a faster pace. But, it is happening, albeit slowly.Anyone would have to admit that the landscape is much better than it was 30 years ago, when your choices for beer were a tasteless American beer or a stale import beer that had been sitting in a ship for weeks and then in a warehouse for months. With all of its warts (or worts) and blemishes, the beer drinker today has it pretty good. I think we are moving in the right direction. I hope discussions like yours and Anat’s keep moving it in that direction.

  3. Oh, boy, the landscape IS better than it was 30 years ago! (And not just in beer. Thirty years ago I would have had a hard time getting a credit card because I was female and single. Not that I wanted or needed a credit card, but you get my point)But I also keep trying to point out that, no, ain’t nuthin’ in life that is black/white. I’m not sure that, aside from Hitler, anyone or anything can be painted as pure evil (nor, frankly, can anyone or anything be painted as pure good.) (No, not even Mother Theresa.)And Tony, you’re right (as always). People don’t like having their myths challenged. Myths serve a useful purpose, one of which is to create and nurture community and solidarity among adn between humans.


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