It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
With an increasing number of states issuing “stay at home” or “shelter in place” directives,
businesses regarded as essential remain open. "Essential" in most states include liquor stores
and, thankfully, breweries. I know that makes you happy Bill, and me too.
However I've heard and read vociferous complaints that beer is hardly a necessity, now or
ever. These folks admit that once upon a long time ago, beer was considered a safer way to
hydrate than water, which is more easily contaminated by microbes. But today, these critics
say beer is really nothing more than a pleasure to consume so should be put in with other non-
essential industries and businesses.
In a way they're right, beer is not essential to life — but neither are potato chips or soda, yet
production and sales of junk food continues full bore as the pandemic rips through a society
plagued by obesity and diabetes. I suppose if we only consumed "real" necessities right now,
we would eliminate everything but beans, rice and water to cook with. Heck, are beans really
necessary? It’s a deep, steep rabbit hole that we slide down when we start asking what, if
anything that we consume, is necessary in a society like ours.
Just this week my dwindling beer supply prompted me to go necessity shopping. Not only did I
have a mask and gloves I had a plan. I wanted to buy enough stuff — beer necessities,if you
will — to last me at least two or three weeks. I know what you're thinking Bill; yes I had to use a
cart, a big cart, to carry it all.
Considering the shopping frenzies induced by the pandemic, the hoarding and, generally, the
American love of beer, I would have expected the shelves to be fairly empty of good stuff I was
partially right. In between loads of macro lagers there was an adequate, not large, sprinkling
of good craft. I left with a broad smile that unfortunately no one could see because of my mask.
As I see it brewers may not be directly involved with health care, national defense, food
production, transportation, energy, water, law enforcement, or other jobs we all agree are top
priorities They do however contribute to the common good. And that's more than enough to
make them not only essential but deserving of our thanks for going to work every day during
these trying times.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time!
Hello Gina -
You get no argument from me about beer being an essential item. Let me point out to those that
disagree with us that the most obvious explanation of beer/liquor being so classified is that they
fall under the category of food and agriculture. Breweries belong right there with groceries,
pharmacies, convenience stores, and other retailers that sell human food, animal or pet food,
and beverage products.. If they are open it's logical that breweries should be too.
I also suspect, there might be a but more to it than membership in the food and agriculture
category. We might push the question further back to ask why all alcoholic beverage products
are included. The amount of money that excise alcohol taxes bring federal, state, and local
governments is significant. The United States government levies taxes on alcohol in three
categories of spirits (hard liquor), wine, and of course beer. I hate to be an economic realist
Gina but the federal government collects roughly $1 billion from alcohol taxes each month.
States then add their own taxes on top of the federal taxes. As you we we're talking big money.
I see another underlying reason why liquor stores and breweries have been allowed to remain
open as “essential businesses”. It's the long shadow Prohibition. While the 18th Amendment to
the Constitution was a federal decision, more than 30 states had enacted their own Prohibition
by the time the Amendment went into effect in 1920. Prohibition ended in 1933 and is regarded
by many as a catastrophic mistake that caused more deaths and harms than if the government
had taken no action. Prohibition caused far too many toxic home and other bootleg brews to be
sold or traded in an extensive black market. No one wants to see that happen again.
The fundamental question seems to be whether people have a right to consume alcoholic
beverages. We're long past Prohibition but we still grapple with that, most notably when we ask
about the legal drinking age. Some readers may not remember that for many years states could
specify their own legal age for drinking. That changed in 1984 when the federal govenment
threatened highway funding if states didn’t move to raise the legal age to 21. Some folks felt like
that was an infringement by the federal government into states' rights and by extension,
I've seen several polls that found the majority of people 21 and older, generally believe they
have a right to drink alcoholic beverages. They see it is a form of freedom involving personal
choice that the government should not infringe on. Of course that's not a blanket statement. An
overwhelming majority of people agreed that when consumption poses a risk to others like
drunk driving we need laws to stop it.
It's clear to me that beer is and has been an important part of our culture. As such it is a
"necessity" by any definition.
Here's looking at you, Gina.