I love this story for five reasons:
1) Free beer!
2) The nanny state lost.
3) The good guys are a major corporation.
4) The bad guys are small, artisinal businessmen.
5) Did I mention free beer?
I’m talking about a new law going into effect in California that allows breweries to offer free samples of their beers to customers in bars and restaurants, a right previously enjoyed only by wineries. Anheuser-Busch backed the law. As the company is getting into more esoteric styles of beer, it recognized that the best way to introduce drinkers to them is to give them a free taste:
“It’s an opportunity for us to get consumers to sample some of our new products,” said Andrew Baldonado, western region vice president of government affairs for Anheuser-Busch. “The winter’s bourbon cask ale is a seasonal beer that we’re doing. The best way to introduce those new products to consumers is to be able to have them sample them.”
Craft brewers actually opposed the law on the grounds that they can’t afford to give out samples the way big companies can. This seems a little short-sighted. If Anheuser-Busch succeeds in getting people to appreciate other beer styles, those customers aren’t all going to stay with Anheuser-Busch. Just as Starbucks eventually leads many consumers to try coffee from boutique roasters, I expect Anheuser-Busch will lead some of its Bud drinkers to true craft brewers. In any case, the small breweries succeeded in getting all kinds of restrictions put on the tastings:
The new law allows beer tastings at bars and restaurants. It limits the amount to no more than 8 ounces per person a day and requires the beer to be served in a glass. Tastings cannot last more than an hour and there are also annual limits on the number of tastings a single manufacturer, importer or wholesaler can offer at a particular establishment.
And then there’s this idiot, who clearly needs to attend one of these new events:
Fred Jones, legal counsel to the Sacramento-based California Council on Alcohol Problems, a coalition of religious groups, thinks the law was a mistake.
“It was jokingly referred to as the ‘Free Happy Hour’ bill (in the Capitol), so I think that gives you an image of what could happen,” Jones said. “What is the reason behind giving someone 8 ounces of beer free? One could argue that with wineries, each winery is different and every bottle is different depending on age or season. But we’re talking about beer here.”