I’m a big fan of the mail. Putting something in a box on one side of the country, and having it show up in another box on the other side of the country just a few short days later? Phenomenal stuff. Despite being terminally online, I mail stuff all the time: Greeting cards! Stickers! Correspondence written in Catholic-school cursive, mostly just to see if I remember how to write in Catholic-school cursive! All these things and more, I have sent hurtling through space and time with the assistance of the United States Postal Service. It’s been a privilege, really — a privilege that I would very much like Congress to extend to this nation’s 9,700-plus breweries. So today, I’m throwing Hop Take’s considerable editorial heft emphatically behind the idea.

Now hear this, lawmakers: Let breweries mail us beer already!

Currently, this is not allowed. Just 11 states and the District of Columbia legally permit breweries to ship their liquid wares directly to consumers. This is not a lot of states, especially not when you consider that 47 plus D.C. allow for DTC wine sales in some form. But crucially, no alcohol producer can send bottles to thirsty customers under the watchful eye of America’s postmen, -women, and -persons, as far as Uncle Sam is concerned. The federal government has long considered certain “injurious articles” to be “nonmailable,” and that blacklist — laid out in 18 U.S. Code § 1716 — explicitly includes “[a]ll spirituous, vinous, malted, fermented, or other intoxicating liquors of any kind.” So even if you live in one of the few places that allows for DTC beer shipping, breweries must use FedEx, United Parcel Service (UPS), or another private logistics firm to deliver your order.

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After much consideration, I’ve decided this restriction is dumb and I hate it. It’s outdated, unfair, and downright uncivic. So I was pleased when a group of bipartisan federal lawmakers reached across the aisle in late May with an attempt to revise this rule during the current Congressional session. The bill, known as the USPS Shipping Equity Act or H.R. 3721, is sponsored by Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA), and has a whole bunch of cosponsors in the House of Representatives. The senior director of federal affairs for the Brewers Association, Katie Marisic, heralded H.R. 3721’s introduction, writing in a blog post at the time that the bill is “critical in leveling the playing field and increasing consumer and manufacturer choice while bringing in millions of dollars in revenue for the USPS.”

That all sounds good, but here’s the thing: Various Congressmen, -women, and -persons have been trying to update this law for a while, without success. Just because H.R. 3721 is on the docket doesn’t mean it’ll go anywhere, in other words. Which brings us to the outdated part.

If you’re reading this column, you probably already know that the U.S. has used a three-tiered system to govern the production, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages since Prohibition. Pretty much everybody agreed that the 18th Amendment was a failure by the time it was supplanted by the 21st Amendment in 1933, so pretty much nobody wanted to leave oversight of drinks in the hands of the federal government. But the concern over alcohol suppliers’ vertical integration of the market — wherein they owned the brewery, the trucks, and the bars, known as jargon “tied houses” — created demand for a legal framework that would make that impossible. Thus, states were empowered to implement these three tiers as they saw fit, and they did, creating an idiosyncratic and at times idiotic patchwork of regulation across this (nominally federated) land. Fifth states, 50 ways of governing alcohol commerce. The feds, for their part, resigned themselves to limited administrative functions — label approvals, food safety guidelines, etc. — related to the hard drink trade. They also prolonged the pre-Prohibition kibosh on trafficking the stuff through one of the most awesome logistics engines in the known world: the Postal Service.

It’s been over 100 years since Prohibition began, and nearly 90 since its repeal. Mail-order catalogs have given way to the rise of e-commerce. And yet the prohibition on shipping booze by mail remains, hamstringing contemporary breweries that would like to mail their customers beer, and those customers who would like to buy beer by mail, like so many other goods. But in states where DTC beer sales are permitted, they must route their business through third-party carriers, enriching private shareholders and putting themselves at the whims of corporate coverage decisions far more capricious than the USPS’s “universal service obligations” to deliver mail regardless of profitability. Not only are breweries in the other 39 states not generating any of those sweet, sweet dollars to fund the commonweal (more on that in a moment), but they must go through traditional distributors to sell beer thanks to the three-tier system. (Mostly, in most places; there are a lot of little state-by-state quirks that I don’t care to litigate here.)

There’s your unfair part. Americans can buy all sorts of sh*t online, from cars to sex toys, but not beer. The passage of H.R. 3721 wouldn’t magically enable breweries to spin up e-commerce divisions that allow them to bypass the other two tiers and sell directly to their customers, but it would be a step in that direction. It’s a more fair direction! A route to market that doesn’t flow through the middle tier could increase parity between the country’s breweries (the vast majority of which produce less than 1,000 barrels of beer annually) and its wholesalers, which have been consolidating at a semi-shocking pace over the past decade.

Naturally, the latter hate this idea, viewing it as an attack on the system that has worked out in their favor for nearly a century. But who cares? This would actually be some of that “free trade” that politicians — many of whom enjoy the considerable largesse of their states’ distributorship owners — love to hector on about. Allowing DTC beer sales wouldn’t force wholesalers out of business; it’s not like people would start buying pallets of beer on Shopify just because they could. (Most people, at least.) But if you came across a small brewery during your out-of-state travels that you wanted to support, such a reform would allow you to join a bottle club and enjoy their beer from afar, just like you can currently/mostly do with wine. The USPS Shipping Equity Act could help usher in this paradigm, and deliver a massive windfall in revenues to the ailing USPS in the process. The BA estimates that if the Postal Service could get in on just the existing DTC action, it could bring in $180 million annually. This is the bit I find uncivic — that money currently flows to private firms, not public goods like the mail. For all the howling by small-government Republicans and corporate Democrats about how the USPS must run like a break-even business (it musn’t, and shouldn’t), they’re currently forced to leave money on the table. Why not give it a try?

Opponents of measures to loosen rules about DTC shipping often raise the concern that underage drinkers would more easily be able to get ahold of beer if they could order it online and take delivery by mail. Having been an underage drinker once myself who had to score beer the old-fashioned way (shoulder-tapping outside the worst liquor stores in Morris County, N. J., and later with a laughably bad fake I.D. purchased for $100 at a headshop in the West Village) this seems plausible to me, but unlikely at scale. And, like… wrongheaded, too. Do we really think teenagers en masse are going to start ordering $28 4-packs of double dry-hopped IPAs from out-of-state hazecanneries weeks in advance of homecoming? Honestly? Then what if there were some sort of law that required the purchaser “to present a government-issued photo identification at the time of delivery,” as H.R. 3721 already specifies? There are legitimate concerns over widening consumer access to beverage alcohol, and I’m genuinely sympathetic to them. But that’s not the conversation we’re having here, and opposing DTC beer shipping on ticky-tack technicalities when there are obvious solutions already in place that can be enhanced for broader rollout strikes me as intellectually dishonest.

So! Will this be the year our dear lawmakers finally lift the moratorium on mailing “spirituous, vinous, malted, fermented, or other intoxicating liquors”? It remains to be seen, and like most things entrusted to our sclerotic and corrupt government, I remain pessimistic, particularly given all the other hurdles downstream of the USPS Shipping Equity Act. But make no mistake, Congresspersons: A world where we can order beer by mail is possible. It’s time to push the envelope.

🤯 Hop-ocalypse Now

The age and culture of American bipartisanship is mostly over (just ask Anheuser-Busch InBev’s execs!), but in late June, state lawmakers in New Jersey proved it ain’t totally dead yet, voting 77-0 across two chambers (no abstentions!) to pass S3038, an emergency bill that “[e]stablishes sales and events privileges for certain alcoholic beverage manufacturers.” Specifically, breweries’ taprooms, a necessary corrective to the sudden enforcement last summer of outdated and in some cases farcical laws on the books that favored the Garden State’s influential restaurant and bar industry. The bill is still awaiting a John Hancock from Governor Phil Murphy, and on July 1, the state’s alcohol control division automatically renewed breweries’ existing restrictive licenses; the head of that agency and the N.J. attorney general issued a joint statement last week indicating they wouldn’t enforce those guidelines pending the outcome of that legislation. What a mess!

📈 Ups…

Profits from American beer reached $10.7 billion in 2022, affirming the United States’s status as the world’s most important beer market (for now)…

📉 …and downs

Dylan Mulvaney, whose April 1 video about Bud Light enraged the nation’s transphobes, broke her silence last week to detail how ABI threw her under the bus… Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened: Monster’s acquisition of Bang Energy has cleared the FTC… For the first time since 2015, the percentage of Americans who say they’re drinking more craft beer equals those who say they’re drinking less, hinting at outflow from the segment

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