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Do We Still Need a Legally-Mandated Three-Tier Drinks System?

Three-tier systemCharles K. Cowdery is the author of Bourbon, Strange: Surprising Stories of American Whiskey (2014); Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey (2004) and The Best Bourbon You’ll Never Taste (2012). He writes:

In 1933, a compulsory three-tier system seemed like the best way to solve those problems. It allowed a state’s beverage control authority to regulate producers and producer practices through the distributors, who as in-state businesses would have to obey the authority’s rulings. Very little has changed in the more than 80 intervening years, and not because the system works so well. In fact, it has become a hollow shell. In-state ownership is a joke. Most distribution companies now are national enterprises that merely have subsidiaries in each state. Cross-tier ownership has become common; drinks-makers establish subsidiaries – often in the names of different members of the owner’s family – that buy stakes in tier-two distributors. This is why small brewers, distillers and vintners so often complain that their products can’t get shelf space.

Yet the pre-Prohibition abuses are no longer a problem, because they are regulated in other ways….

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