I finally settled on a reaction to the much-talked about legislative proposal of state Senator John Carona. In the immortal words of John McEnroe, "You can't be serious, man. YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!"
I'm referring, of course, to Senate Bill 639.
Aspects of the bill, such as preventing craft brewers from selling distribution rights to wholesalers and putting a stop to self-distribution, have been discussed at length in other forums. The impact of a third component, one which would force brewers to sell their products to distributors at a fixed price, was covered earlier this week by the Observer. They focused on the "exponential" price increases that would likely result, something even Anheuser Busch has publicly come out against. I would argue that there is another, equally dire consequence that may result.
What happens to the beer?
Craft breweries are, by and large, small businesses that don't generate the kind of volume necessary to survive on razor thin margins. Profits matter, as they do to any business, but they are even more critical to the survival of an up-and-coming enterprise.
So, what does this mean in relation to this bill?
Faced with set price points, brewers may have no choice but to alter recipes and/or source cheaper ingredients in an effort to keep costs down. Not only could the quality of the craft beers we drink suffer, but imagine sipping on a pint of Velvet Hammer or The Temptress and coming to the realization that it no longer tastes the same. Would it be better? Worse? Either way, it would be different. Consistency is a key element in developing brand loyalty, and all bets are off when you start changing the formula of established products.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't an aversion to weak, watered down beers built around the bottom line the reason we started this whole craft beer thing in the first place?
Beyond that is the question of oversight. Who or what determines the set price of a certain style of beer? Just because two different breweries offer a pale ale, that doesn't mean they cost the same to make. So, who sets the standard? Compromise all you want, but in the end somebody's going to get screwed. And, what about extreme beers? Could brewers even afford to produce them anymore? Good luck competing with unbridled brands like Stone and Dogfish Head when you're fundamentally limited in the things you are able to do.
Seems to me like there are more questions than answers.
No, wait. I take that back.
Should this bill pass in its present form, the question of who loses is clear. We all do. Forcing brewers to sell their beer for a fixed price threatens to stymie the creativity that is at the very heart of the craft beer movement. There's no denying we need to blaze new trails when it comes to craft beer legislation, but how about we don't burn the whole forest down in the process?
Call or write. Rant and rave. That's what Johnny Mac would do.
For issues affecting other states, check out the summaries posted on CraftBeer.com.