4. Ask questions
Not just the easy ones, either. Texas and Alabama were among the states that changed beer laws last year largely because people looked around, saw restrictions in their state's beer laws that didn't exist elsewhere and pushed for a change.
In Alabama's case, it made that state the last in the U.S. to allow home brewing.
We realize this is by no means an easy task. It's kind of tough to show a legislator from a state that doesn't allow growlers a 32-ounce jug and tell them you want to fill it with beer, screw a cap on and take it home. We'd love to spend just a minute inside their heads to see the cartoon images of overall-wearing yahoos swigging from jugs with XXX painted on them while driving their pickup down the nearest interstate.
It's also by no means easy to explain to legislators in a state with state-run packaged goods stores how switching away from that model won't take away jobs, drive up prices and turn their lovely little patch of earth into a den of iniquity. We're also not saying that there's an all-encompassing approach to beer law that can keep everyone happy.
What we are saying, however, is that there was similar adversity in states such as Utah, Mississippi and Alabama and people there were still able to effect change. As we mentioned, it helps to have all options available when making decisions about beer, and not having access to full-strength beer, various forms of packaging or even outlets that sell it can make those decisions more difficult than they need to be.
You may not be able to get the taps flowing every time, but you'll at least get the explanations you deserve. We'll try to delve more deeply into beer law this year as well just so you don't have to do all of the heavy lifting.
5. Don't get caught up in the extracurriculars
You're going to hear a lot of people telling you what's "craft" and what isn't. You're going to see a lot of breweries buying up other breweries and hear wails about what that will do to the beer. You'll hear squabbling over distribution, naming rights, beer styles, brewer credentials, advertising strategies, marketing efforts and a whole lot of other sausage making that's coming between you and a taste of beer.
Don't pay it a whole lot of mind. Again, it comes back to that first point: Try everything. The noise does a good job of steering people toward certain beers and away from others. While that's been great for Blue Moon sales and attendance at Three Floyds' Dark Lord Day, it also overlooks a lot of great beer in the middle.
Oddly, the best way to avoid all of that is to just try beers and learn on your own. If quality is what matters to you, your palate will build that distinction by itself. If helping local business is key to your agenda, just a quick question about the beer you like ("Where's this from?" or "Who makes this?") will go a long way in helping your decision.
The beer world is growing quickly. With that growth comes a bit of pain, squabbling and jockeying for position. While all of that information is helpful to investors checking in on those BUD, TAP, STZ, SAM, BREW and DEO tickers -- and we're looking out for those folks, too -- it's only important to the consumer when it denies them access to as broad a beer spectrum as possible or affect how much they pay for it. When distribution and behind-the-scenes deals limit your options on tap or in coolers, you should know about it. When breweries ask for tax breaks but don't pass those breaks down to the consumer, you should know about it. When breweries snipe about who's in the craft club or bicker about styles, names and packaging, it's usually entertaining but not extremely important.
It's gossip and bickering that an informed beer drinker can sweep aside. It's hard not to dip an elbow into that puddle every so often, but we'll try our best to keep clear of it.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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