May 28, 2014

Cut restrictions on Texas brews

Antiquated laws and regulations hurt brewers and consumers.

Countless Americans celebrated American Craft Beer Week, May 12-18. Glasses were raised to the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of craft brewing.

Last year there were 2,822 breweries operating in the United States, the highest total since the 1870’s. In Texas there are 74 breweries and brewpubs, with five in the works from Fort Worth to South Padre Island.

Young Americans love craft beer. And young entrepreneurs are fueling the industry’s rapid growth in Texas and across the nation.

The celebration, started in 2006, has grown from 126 breweries in 2006 to more than 1,200 events.

The celebration would have been much bigger if it weren’t for politicians and bureaucrats who stand opposed to craft brewing.

A maze of antiquated and burdensome laws at the national, state and local levels protects special interests and the status quo at the expense of brewers and consumers. Lawmakers are working to even further regulate these small businesses.

The worst example is the “three-tier” distribution system, a Prohibition-era regulatory system set up to protect big beer distribution companies.

These laws prevent small breweries from distributing and selling their own beer, forcing them to sign deals with powerful companies that have costly distribution licenses.

If you can’t sell your own product, it’s difficult to get your business off the ground.

With so many regulations in place, it’s no surprise that only a few companies are responsible for the entire nation’s beer distribution. These big businesses lobby Congress and their state legislatures to maintain their monopolies.

Politicians who benefit from their campaign contributions are all too willing to play along, young entrepreneurs and consumers be damned.

The craft brewing world provides beer drinkers greater freedom to choose. Distribution laws should give consumers easier access to more products, not fewer options.

And success should be based on the quality of beer and the efficiency of the business, not ability to navigate regulations and lobby for special handouts.

But politicians aren’t the only problem. Bureaucrats at the Food and Drug Administration have proposed enforcing a tax on the spent grain that brewers often donate to local hog and cattle farms.

Heaven forbid that brewers and farmers develop mutually beneficial relationships.

Some local officials in some states are even pushing legislation requiring brewers to sell their products to a distributor and then buy it back at a mark-up in order to sell it themselves — even though the beer didn’t leave the brewery.

Politicians and big business win, beer enthusiasts and small businesses lose.

Craft brewing is not just about enjoying good beer. The industry provides an estimated 2,015,120 industry-related jobs in the United States and 160,390 jobs in Texas, positions often held by young Americans.

More than 400 breweries opened in the United States in 2013 in spite of all the red tape. Imagine how many more jobs would be available if politicians were to get out of the way and free the brews.

Millions of young Americans and thousands of aspiring brewers are driving historic growth in craft brews. Let’s raise a pint to their success while committing to freeing the brews from politicians and bureaucrats.

Evan Feinberg, 30, is the president of Generation Opportunity, a youth advocacy organization.


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