Government vs. good drinks

As a barista and bartender, I love drinks. And as a libertarian, I hate the government. So it’s no surprise that I get annoyed by the many ways government stands between you and a better beverage. Read on for three current examples of how the state violates your rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of a damn good drink.

First off, via my friend Justin Logan, a cover story in the Washington City Paper on why it’s so hard to get a good bottle of wine in Montgomery County. The three-tier system of producer, distributor, and retailer/restaurant has gotten a lot of press lately as entrepreneurs struggle nationwide to cut out the politically protected middle man. But in MoCo, it’s even worse: there business owners must deal with a fourth tier, run by the county government, with all the added costs and inefficiencies one would expect from a local bureaucracy. The result is that specialty wine is both more expensive and harder to get in the county, making life a lot harder for wine sellers and consumers:

To get special-order wine from the DLC, [Black’s Restaurant Group wine buyer Brian] Considine must first find out who distributes the product in Maryland; the distributor’s sales rep can be invaluable in helping move the product through the system. Considine then tracks down each wine’s six-digit code from the county’s wholesale price book, writes the codes on his order form, and faxes it to the DLC. With order in hand, the county turns around and purchases the wine from the distributors, whom Considine just spoke to earlier. The distributors ship the product to the DLC, which will log the wine into the system, write up an invoice for the restaurant, and finally deliver the product to Black’s COD. The process, if it’s working well, will take between one and two weeks.

To make matters even worse, the DLC is not just the wine supplier, but also the liquor law enforcer. This makes local restauranteurs not only frustrated with the system, but also afraid to speak out against it lest the county lash out against them. Read the whole thing.

Speaking of the three tier system, Tom Wark at Fermentation discusses a great position paper about the situation in Texas, which carries over well to many other states. It argues that the system, developed after Prohibition ostensibly to keep the alcohol supply safe, has been captured by wholesalers to blatantly protect their own economic interests. An excerpt:

A statute that was designed to promote public health, safety and welfare has, over time, been subverted by the economic interests of the entities it was intended to regulate. Now, the legalized system operates primarily to prevent competition, protect anti-competitive conduct and otherwise thwart the functioning of a free market in the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcohol beverages.

Finally, my friend Chad Wilcox has a post up about one of his pet issues, the use of high fructose corn syrup in American soft drinks. In the old days, drink makers used real cane sugar. Alas, US sugar subsidies have artificially raised the price of sugar relative to corn, leading most major manufacturers to switch to the inferior tasting syrup. Today one must search for real sugar cane from a few niche brands, the original Dr Pepper bottler in Dublin, TX, and bottles of Coke made especially for Passover.

As noted approvingly by Chad, Jones Soda has just announced a bold move to switch to pure cane sugar across its product line. It’s a cool story that makes me want to give the brand another try. Read the whole post here.

[This post was originally published at EatFoo(d) on 2/27/07.]