Alcohol Regulation

Another interesting panel at the ADHS conference was “Regulating Alcohol in the 20th Century.” W. Scott Haine spoke on “Vichy’s Greatest Victory: Liquor Licensing and Urban Renewal in Occupied France, 1940-1944 and its enduring legacy.” The Vichy government waged a battle against cafes and aperitifs. The government passed seven different laws concerning liquor during the war. A 1943 zoning law sought to cure under population that the government felt was caused by alcoholism and the social life of the cafe. They wanted to move people from the city to the country. Interestingly when the Vichy government fell, the Resistance governments continued the same restrictive zoning and social policies.

Dan Malleck’s talk was on “Viewing and rev-viewing the public space: Ontario, 1927-1944.” Following the end of Prohibition in Ontario, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario licensed hotels to provide alcohol. Hotels were the only place people could drink. He provided very interesting maps that showed both the establishments that were licensed and those that weren’t as well as the surrounding neighborhoods.

William Rorabaugh spoke on “U.S. Alcohol Control after Prohibition”. The paper was really about the three-tier system of liquor production, distribution, and retail sale. This system grew out of the 21st amendment and is still the basic system of organization for alcoholic beverages. Washington is one of eighteen states that have a State Liquor Control Board.  Recently Costco has sued to be allowed to bypass the three-tier system and sell directly to consumers.

The three-tier system works very well for large alcohol producers and has created a powerful trade association, the National Beer Wholesalers Association.  Some craft brewers feel that the system prevents them from having equal access to shelf space and widespread distribution. At the same time, other craft brewers who have expanded nationally are pulling back. Dogfish Head Brewing, located in Delaware, pulled out of four states because the brewer was concerned with meeting demand while maintaining quality. Several other craft brewers have taken similar action. Voluntarily giving up shelf space and market share is not something that either regional or large brewers would have done during the intensely competitive atmosphere of the late 20th century.

Craft beers, however, are a niche product and withdrawing from some markets could increase demand for the product. Since the brewers have framed their market withdrawals within a context of a determination to maintain quality, these actions could also increase the commitment that craft beer drinkers have to the product.

For more on brewers withdrawing from markets  click here.

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