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Jul 23

Beer as a controlled substance (aka, Can you get me this beer?)

“Can I see your I.D.?” is a common request from the checker when you’re buying beer. Nearly everyone knows that you’ve got to be at least 21 years old to buy beer in America.

Surprisingly, few know that there are other controls on beer in our country.

Control isn’t just about ID checking. There are Federal and State controls that dictate what beers can be made available to you in America, in your State, and in your county. Your local beer store or tavern can’t just call up a brewery and ask to buy a few cases.

Federal controls

  • If you’re a brewer and want to sell your beer, you must first qualify via Brewer’s Certificate. Once you have your certificate, there are additional permits, reports and taxes to report, and the business is subject to Federal compliance audits.
  • If you want to be a beer importer or wholesaler, you must first obtain a permit. There are also additional permits, documents, reports and taxes, and the business is subject to Federal compliance audits.
  • Beer labels must be approved by the TTB via COLA (Certificate of Label Approval).

Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

State controls

  • Every state has its own Alcohol Control Board.
  • Breweries, beer wholesalers and beer retailers (stores, taverns, restaurants) must be licensed by the State.
  • Retailers can only sell beer that is legally available to them via State-licensed distributors.
  • Some states provide additional laws on beers, such as caps on ABV (alcohol by volume) and interstate shipping.

Washington State Liquor Control Board

What beer as a controlled substance means to you

  • You may not be able to find the beers you seek from a local source.
  • Your local retailers cannot provide beers that aren’t legally available to them.

You can't always get what you want.

How to find out if a beer’s available in your area

Checking a beer's distribution on RateBeer

A handy resource to use to help identify if a beer is distributed in your State is the Beer Finder on RateBeer, an online beer review community. When submitting beer reviews, individuals can tag the business where they purchased the beer. This information is logged into the “Beer Distribution” database, so when you look up a beer on RateBeer.com, you can click “Broad Distribution” and get a list of potential retail locations. Use caution; as this is dependent on individuals, not necessarily the source, it’s not 100% reliable.

Of course, another ideal source to check if a certain beer is available in your home state is the brewery’s website. A lot of breweries don’t have time to field all the phone calls and email messages asking, “Where can I buy your beer?” so have placed distribution information (i.e., “Where to buy our beer”) on their websites.

If you’re in Washington State, I’ll save you the trouble of looking these up

The following beers are frequently requested at my beer store, but they aren’t distributed in Washington State. Where possible, the link goes to the brewery’s “beer finder” or “distribution” page, so you can get information on where their beers are available.

  • 3 Floyds – Alpha King, Dark Lord, Dreadnaught, Zombie Dust, etc.
  • The Alchemist – Heady Topper
  • Bell’s – Hopslam, Oberon, Two Hearted, etc.
  • Brooklyn – Black Chocolate Stout, Black Ops, Local 2, etc.
  • Cigar City – Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, Jai Alai, etc.
  • Founders – Dirty Bastard, Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS), etc.
  • New Glarus – Belgian Red, Spotted Cow, etc.
  • Russian River Brewing – Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Consecration, Supplication, etc.
  • Schlafly – Bourbon Imperial Stout, Oaked Barleywine, etc.
  • Sixpoint – 3Beans, Diesel, Resin, etc.
  • Surly – Bender, Darkness, Furious, etc.
  • Yuengling – Yuengling Lager
  • Westvleteren – Trappist Westvleteren 12 (XII)
  • Sharing Buttons by Linksku