Wednesday, January 18, 2006
On this day:

Unhoppy about the keg ban

Say what you will about whether banning keg sales will cut down on underage consumption. I have my doubts. I mean, it's just as easy for a minor to drink from a can as it is for him to drink from a keg.

Regardless, a deep-seated concern for Alabama's youth is almost certainly not the reason that the Alabama Beer Wholesalers Association supports the idea. Wholesalers make a bigger profit when they sell beer in bottles and cans than they do when they sell it in kegs. So, it seems to me that the anti-keg bill being considered by the legislature is primarily an anti-competition bill. It is a convenient, legal way for beer wholesalers to collude in order to maximize their profits.

For example, see this story, which appeared in the Decatur Daily this time last year. It turns out that wholesalers' opposition to keg sales extends to restaurants and private clubs, as well.

...unlike any other form of alcohol, draft beer service in Alabama requires a local act of the state Legislature. A local government has to ask its legislative delegation to introduce it for a vote in Montgomery.

Twenty-three counties have that state approval, according to Capt. John Richardson, assistant director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control enforcement office in Montgomery. ...

...the reason draft beer isn't easier to get today is not that Alabamians necessarily prefer their beverages with pop tops or even the opposition of religious groups. According to several people familiar with the issue, a major factor is that breweries and beer distributors oppose it.

Lots of reasons are given for this opposition, but it all comes down to one thing - money. It's an unfortunate fact that businesses will often support anything - including policies that restrict competition - to increase their profits. A local microbrewer knows the game:

Don Alan Hankins, a Huntsville native who started a microbrewery last year and produces his Olde Towne brand in kegs and bottles, said he would prefer to sell just draft beer. Bottled beer may sit in a window and get light shock. Canned beer may sit on a shelf getting heat.

"Beer, the absolute instant it leaves the brewery, starts to break down," he said. "Kegs are stainless steel. They're always refrigerated. The beer going to the consumer is much fresher. I look at it from a consumer flavor standpoint, but I'm biased."

Conversely, draft beer is more expensive and less profitable for the major breweries and distributors, he said. It takes a major investment for refrigerated warehouses, kegs, refrigerated trucks, employees to clean out lines and other draft technician type work. It's also highly competitive.

"The draft market is very dog-eat-dog," Hankins said. "It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of labor to get that sort of thing going. If a city the size of Decatur voted to have draft beer, it would be an extremely competitive market. The big brewers want their tap handle up there. They want it to be visible. They cut all kinds of deals. It's a marketing thing. It's not just about how much beer you sell."
So, the question is this: will a ban on keg sales really cut down on irresponsible drinking - particularly among teens and college students - or will it just make drinking more expensive for consumers and more profitable for Big Beer?