My rant was a product of watching too much election coverage with my brother-in-law. I didn’t tune in until late. Winners were already being announced. We split a 12oz New Holland Dragon’s Milk, and he caught me up on the outcomes and projected outcomes. I considered the implications of the results, determined and pending. A second beer, this time a couple of Terrapin Hi-5 IPAs, brought us to wine in grocery. Winning resoundingly in all counties. No surprise. A third beer, we split a Terrapin Rye Cubed, and I was fired up about wine in grocery, and then waxing poetic about the state of the beer culture in Chattanooga. So for this inaugural blog, I’m gonna see what I can piece together from my Tuesday night rant. I am confident that somewhere in there was a nugget of info worth sharing, so here goes.
Wine in grocery, overall, is a win for Hamilton County and the City of Chattanooga. It loosens restrictions on breweries, it loosens restrictions on liquor stores, and it loosens restrictions on grocery stores. Furthermore, it redefines beer as a malted beverage with an alcohol by volume of 10.1%. Awesome so far.
But not awesome. Here’s why. Under the new law, breweries no longer need special licenses to make and serve for on-premise or off-premise drinking, and liquor stores get to sell all beers, low-gravity and high-gravity, in bottles and growlers. This went into law on July 1, 2014. It’s happening now. In liquor stores all over the state. But everyone else…EVERYONE…grocery stores, gas stations, and craft beer markets, like Heaven&Ale, Sturmhaus, the Growler, Sigler’s, has to wait until July 1, 2017 to sell those same beers. Two-thousand and seventeen. For three years, liquor stores get to be the only destination for high-gravity beer (and wine and spirits) outside of the brewery itself.
And that stinks. Breweries wanted this so badly that they overlooked an emerging small-business segment (craft beer markets) that specializes in selling their beers, and the liquor lobby used that desire as leverage to strangle an emerging small-business segment (craft beer markets) that competes too directly with them.
And that realization got me thinking about the state of the craft beer culture in Chattanooga. It dawned on me that the success of a city’s craft beer culture is determined by similar factors to that of a successful governing body. As it stands, representatives of craft beer, primarily owners of liquor stores and craft beer markets, fight too much. We secretly, if not blatantly, compete too directly with stores who do similar things to what we do. We compete for beer, especially small batch, one-off releases. We compete for events. Most importantly, we compete for market share. The existing market share. In the case of the liquor lobby regarding wine in grocery, we compete to monopolize wine and beer sales. We’re like members of different political parties fighting for the values of our base, and like political parties, we do this to a paralyzing effect. We let this short-sighted competition hinder the bigger issue, address the bigger question. And that is…
What are we doing collectively to make the market share grow?