by David Ulmer
Most people believe if you start your own business, work hard and build it into something, you should have the right to reap the rewards. That is the American dream. However, in North Carolina some local brewers are being denied that right.
North Carolina has a prosperous and booming craft brewery industry. This economic boon was the direct result of a grassroots effort ten years ago called “Pop-the-Cap.” The reform lifted unnecessary rules and regulations on the craft brewers. It allowed the free-market to respond.
Dozens of hard working entrepreneurs started making local beer for consumers across the state. They brought in $1.2 billion dollars and created more than 10,000 jobs, according to NC Craft Brewers Guild estimates. State community colleges even have programs to prepare young people to work in this fast growing industry.
For some politicians and special interests groups, success is a problem. Large, established distributors, with government-granted monopolies on transporting alcoholic products, lobbied for laws requiring any brewery producing more than 25,000 barrels per year to use their services. Distributors then gain total control over where craft beers may be sold.
Distributors want government to give them a cut of a business they didn't help build.
Now, 25,000 barrels sounds like a lot of beer but it isn't. Local Breweries like Olde Mecklenberg, NoDa and Red Oak are now producing near this cap. These successful local businesses have to decide whether to keep growing – and hand over 30 percent of their revenue to someone else – or remain small.
Using government to force one business to give up the fruits of their labor to another strikes most people in North Carolina as just flat wrong. Distributors do serve a role in our beer industry, but craft breweries should only rely on them voluntarily. Amazon chooses to use FedEx or UPS, but the government doesn't tell them who should deliver their orders. Some states, notably California and Colorado, don't have a barrel limit. It should be no surprise that the brewers who have gone national like Sierra Nevada are based in these states.
This isn't a complicated or socially divisive issue. There’s simply no reason the law should lock craft breweries into relationships with distributors. We can't allow special interests and big beer industry players based in places like Belgium to keep our local NC beer industry from growing. Local businesses want to expand their sales forces and distribution networks to meet the demand they are seeing for their product across the state. Why shouldn't they?
House Bill 67 would raise the barrel limit from 25,000 to 100,000 barrels. It’s supported by Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians. This is at least an improvement.
But the beer and wine wholesalers lobby stands in the way. Distributors in North Carolina cling to a business model dependent on using government and politicians to keep their businesses profitable. The opponents of HB67 won't get out of the way until the people of North Carolina make it clear we still believe in the American dream.
How can you help? Go to CraftFreedom.org and sign their petition, and like their Facebook page. Let your representatives in the General Assembly know how you feel. And the next time you are in your favorite watering hole, tell the owner or manager that you support craft beer and ask them what they are doing to help.
The Libertarian Party of North Carolina supports passage of HB67 and the efforts of CrafFreedom.org to maintain control over the businesses they built.
David Ulmer has worked in the Wake information technology sector since 2000, and is a craft beer aficionado. He was the 2016 Libertarian candidate for state House 49.