Category: Alcohol

Afternoon Links

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Regulatory Catch 22

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Great article in the Nashville City Paper about the proliferation of distilleries in Tennessee. Until just a few years ago, there were only two, Jack Daniels and George Dickel. Now there are about a dozen. Here’s why:

From the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 until the most recent law change, it was exceptionally difficult to get legal approval to distill spirits in the state of Tennessee. Only a few counties allowed the practice, and for a distillery to be approved it had to get a referendum on the ballot and then win a countywide vote. This made it nearly impossible for new producers to start up.

In 2009 all that changed. A bill was drafted that would permit distilleries in any county in Tennessee where there are both operating liquor stores and liquor by the drink, which opens up much of the state. But there was a moment where things didn’t look good for the bill.

“A state senator said to us at one point: ‘Wine is good because Jesus drank wine. But beer and whiskey are bad, because Jesus did not drink those,’ ” Darek Bell of Nashville-based Corsair Distillery recalled. “It felt like we had traveled back in time to Prohibition.”

“At one point it looked like the bill would fail,” Bell said. “An older representative got up and spoke. He said ‘I don’t know anything about this stuff. But if it will help the farmers in my community sell more corn, then I am all for it.’ And just like that, the opinion turned, and the bill seemed to sail through after that.”

But that doesn’t mean there still aren’t some daunting regulatory hurdles. The most asinine is probably the wholesaler/distributor laws, variations of which are common to many states. The only real purpose of these laws is to drive up the cost of booze in order to enrich people who run alcohol wholesaling businesses. Wholesalers are also licensed by the state, and usually given state-granted monopolies over large chunks of territories.

 [T]o make it to the shelves, a distillery must sign on with a distributor, which is a very delicate aspect of the process. Tennessee liquor distribution, which also includes wine and higher-alcohol beer, is subject to what is known as a franchise law. This law was put in place to protect the franchisee, in this case, the wholesaler. According to local attorney Will Cheek, once a distiller enters into a contract with
a wholesaler, it is very, very difficult to terminate that contract. In fact, he couldn’t recall a single case of  such a relationship being terminated.

So, hypothetically, were a distiller to ever get crossways with the distributor for whatever reason, leaving that relationship would be nearly impossible.

“It’s a harder choice than choosing your spouse. Getting divorced is far easier than breaking up with your distributor,” Cheek said.

This could prove especially difficult for microdistilleries, which might not get as much notice on a wholesaler’s radar. Cheek said the law is structured to protect the wholesalers from big, out-of-state competitors.

“From a distiller’s standpoint, the law is ridiculous. It offers every protection to the wholesaler and almost none for the distiller,” he said.

If you sat down and consciously tried to design a system prone to corruption and highly favorable to large, incumbent alcohol companies at the expense of upstarts, I don’t think you could do much better than this.

But the most beautiful example of regulatory nonsense can’t be blamed on Bible Belt temperance. It comes courtesyof the federal government. In order to get a federal permit for whiskey-makin’ . . .

 . . . you have to be able to prove you know how to make whiskey but are not allowed to have actually made it . . .

Wonderful, isn’t it? It’s illegal to distill booze for any reason, even solely for personal consumption. So to get a federal permit, you really do have to swear to the feds that you know how to distill, but it’s illegal for you to ever have tried.*

Related: This Tennessee-distilled wonderfulness is the best bourbon I’ve ever had. Don’t be deterred by the chocolate. It’s delightfully subtle.

*A commenter points out that someone could conceivably have learned the art of distilling in another country. Good point! That also means that when it comes to whiskey-making, the feds are giving a huge advantage to .  .  . foreigners!

Vehicular Homicide by Proxy

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

This actually happened a few hundred feet from where I live, though I don’t remember hearing about it at the time. An intoxicated man apparently struck and killed two pedestrians at a roundabout, then collided with a taxi.

It’s a really poorly designed intersection. There’s a smooth, three-lane, one-way road that runs for about a mile, then stops abruptly at a roundabout with quite a bit of pedestrian traffic, especially at night. So people fly up the road, then zip around the circle without looking out for people crossing. It’s especially bad late at night when people coming home from the strip of bars on the street where this happened are probably in a state where they’re less prone to be looking out for cars. (I mean, so I’ve heard.)

Of course, poorly designed or not, it doesn’t excuse the this guy, who was apparently pretty drunk. He was been charged with vehicular homicide. I’m not sold on the appropriateness of that charge for drivers in these cases (although this guy didn’t help matters by fleeing the scene—twice).

But what happened to the guy’s girlfriend seems way over the top.

Erin Brown’s boyfriend was charged with vehicular homicide and assault. She had been in the passenger seat. But in a rare use of the law, police also are charging Brown with the same crimes.

She faces as many as three decades in prison.

Police and prosecutors says Brown violated a part of the highway safety section of the Tennessee Code that makes it unlawful for the owner of a vehicle to direct, require or knowingly permit the operation of a vehicle in any manner contrary to the law.

Allowing someone to drive your car when you know they are drunk, prosecutors say, makes you criminally responsible for their actions.

The District Attorney’s Office commonly charges vehicle owners with driving under the influence for allowing a drunk person to drive their car.

But the vehicular homicide charge, a felony, against Brown is the first of its kind in Nashville.

Brown apparently was drunk too, and in her state of intoxication,she improperly gauged the level of her boyfriend’s intoxication before handing him the keys.

I’m okay with finding some civil liability for Brown, here. But it seems awfully excessive to take this woman’s life away from her for a split-second error in judgment that indirectly led to her boyfriend unintentionally striking and killing two people.

Brown apparently set herself up for the charge by telling police she gave her boyfriend the keys because he seemed “less drunk” than she was. So she basically admitted she knew he was intoxicated. (Again—never, ever talk to the police. Get an attorney.) But I wonder. What if she hadn’t made that statement? Could she have been charged if she should have known her boyfriend was drunk? How obviously drunk would he have needed to be? What if he was, say, just a hair above the legal limit? How much of a duty do you have to determine someone’s sobriety before you allow them to drive your car?

Seems to me that this is a pretty good example of “just because you can charge someone with a crime doesn’t mean you should.”

Morning Links

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Morning Links

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012
  • British government, public health activists say alcoholism running rampant even though per capita consumption is down.
  • States looking to pass yet more policies to curb access to prescription drugs. Note that one politician quoted refers to “patients” trying to manipulate the system, not “addicts” or “dealers.” A patient trying to manipulate the system is a patient who can’t get the drugs he needs, because of the system.
  • I feel another law named after a dead person coming on.
  • Oakland cops were given body-mounted cameras to improve relations with the public. But they aren’t turning them on when they’re policing protests.
  • The best outcome to the birth control debate: Make the pill available over the counter. I have a feeling neither side would approve.
  • Philly cops say they aren’t required to observe bike lanes.
  • Middle-aged American Family Association columnist calls high school junior a “small-minded and vengeful brat.” He also calls her “mean.”

Late Morning Links

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Sunday Links

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Sunday Links

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Bonus Afternoon Links

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Saturday Links

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

Morning Links

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Morning Links

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Morning Links

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Morning Links

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011
  • Another example of how when police know a suspect is actually armed and dangerous, they find other ways to apprehend them than to send in the SWAT team while the suspect is sleeping.
  • America’s is losing its faith in government. If this brings some skepticism about giving government ever-more power (though it likely won’t), it’s a good thing. But it also means government is failing at its most basic and fundamental obligations.
  • Mark Hemingway on how the fact-checking trend in journalism has evolved into a way for journalists to simply validate their own opinions.
  • The Supreme Court may be on its way to authorizing medical patents. Tim Lee explains why this is something to worry about.
  • Alabama: Where it’s illegal to brew your own beer, but it’s perfectly fine to drink while you’re serving on the jury in a death penalty case.
  • The latest in the Michael Mermel saga: An Illinois court has reversed the conviction of Juan Rivera, the subject of the New York Times piece that led to prosecutor Mermel’s resignation.

Morning Links

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011