The Craft Beer Cops
GOP candidates in New Hampshire discover more Washington hassle.
Jan. 21, 2016
You might think of a microbrewery as a home for free spirits who grow long beards, take their dogs to work, and make their own rules. But Washington won’t let them. On a visit to the Journal this week, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush explained to us the burden of federal regulation on the good folk who want to create tasty beverages.
Mr. Bush had recently bumped into Erik Olsen of New Hampshire’s Kelsen Brewing Company, who told him that competing in this industry requires a license from the U.S. Treasury that Mr. Bush says goes back to Prohibition days. This is for any brewer who hopes to sell across state lines, or who has the misfortune of living in a place where the state liquor commission demands a federal seal of approval.
The Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) says its application process is to ensure that those it regulates “are duly qualified to do so and will conduct their operations fairly and legally.” You know, in case they might be Al Capone.
Brewers have to go back to the feds to get approval for each new label. And Mr. Olsen tells us that companies like his must also “file any expansion plans with the TTB, just like a new brewery that is opening its doors.” He adds that the agency “has to approve our plans before we can start using the new expansion space for brewing.” This can take six months or more.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich got an earful on the same subject when he recently visited New Hampshire’s Henniker Brewing. The company’s “managing member” Dave Currier tells us that the litany of labelling rules for beer bottles and cans even covers font sizes. He says that his brewery was forced to stop calling its old-fashioned porter “soothing” because regulators claimed it suggested a medical benefit. The government has graciously allowed Henniker to continue calling it “robust” and “hearty.”
Mr. Currier says New Hampshire regulators generally act much more quickly than the feds in issuing approvals. But under state law an oatmeal beer from out of state was banned in New Hampshire because its label featured a picture of a baby. He says it was disallowed on grounds that it “implied underage drinking.” This kind of nonsensical regulation could drive anyone to drink, and it’s one more reason we have a 2% growth economy.