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Sep 07

Prohibition, or a Case of Supply vs. Demand?

Every day I hear questions from beer consumers. And every day I realize how little the consumer understands the difference between prohibition and economics. Questions like, “Can you get Samuel Adams Utopias?” and “Can you get BrewDog’s Sink the Bismarck!?” – these have multilayered answers; both have a foot in each camp.

Prohibition: Limits intended to benefit society

While I’ve not seen the official RCW on alcohol content limits for Washington State, the highest ABV (alcohol-by-volume) I’ve seen listed on bottles is 20%. Both Utopias and Sink the Bismarck! exceed this, at ABVs of 27% and 41%. So, in their cases it’d likely have to do with prohibition. That is, laws that restrict your alcohol purchase decisions.

Some whine and complain about the high-alcohol restrictions, while I feel rather fortunate that we’re not in a state like Mississippi where you can only get 5% or lower beer.

Prohibition: Did it  end or loosen?It makes you wonder: How and why did legislators place limits on things like alcohol volumes, home brewing, even once going so-far as to outlaw alcohol completely?

To better understand how we got here, we need to know the history of how this was created. This is one reason I’m really looking forward to the Ken Burns documentary on Prohibition airing on PBS next month.

Economics: Is it a case of supply and demand?

In the simplest case of supply and demand, a brewery may not have enough tanks and manpower to brew enough to provide locally. There is not enough beer to sell at this bar and that bar, let alone ship to another state.

In the case of beers like Utopias and Sink the Bismarck, it could even be a case of personal economics. Probably 98% of those requesting have little knowledge about those beers, asking follow-up questions like: “What’s it taste like?” The answer, documented in hundreds of online beer reviews; with a search on RateBeer.com or BeerAdvocate.com, their answer easily found. And “Where can I get it?” You can get it in another state…or country…for the price plus transportation costs. The 27% Samuel Adams Utopias will run you around $150-200 if you’re paying what the brewery intended; I’ve seen hovering around $260-375 on eBay (aka, Beer’s Black Market). Though on the black market, it could be stored improperly and spoiled, refilled or diluted with water, or perfectly fine. The gamble’s up to you. There are online retailers who’ll direct-ship, some attempting to thwart black market resellers by pricing at $250-499.

Sink the Bismarck!As for the 41% BrewDog Sink the Bismarck, there are online stores that can direct-ship to you, if you’ve got valid ID to prove age of 21 years or older and live within the borders of a state that allows personal beer shipments. An 11.2-ounce bottle will cost you $120-170. Yep, that’s $10-15 an ounce for a “good beer.”

There’s online beer-of-the-month clubs and beer stores willing and able to ship beers from one state to another, should The CARE Act keep its nose out of those businesses. Should CARE be enacted, clearly a mix of prohibition and economics result. Why are legislators keeping CARE alive? What’s in it for their state? Are they concerned about tax and licensing revenue – and are these enforceable across cross-state lines? Who’s behind CARE, and how does it benefit distributors?

1 comment

  1. Craig H

    Cheers, Tiffany – a good read.

    Our retail beer selection in the US – and in WA – is excellent, but some folks will always want the beer that they can’t get easily. Ever thus.

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