American Beer Is Great!

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 3 2014 10:32 AM

American Beer Is Great!

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To England!

Photo by Arthur Edwards-Pool/Getty Images

Chuck Todd, perhaps watching Super Bowl commercials through a time warp of some kind, tweets that American beer is bad:

I am, personally, an apologist for "bad" low-flavor American beers, which I think are sometimes an enjoyable and refreshing beverage. These products are often condemned as "watery," but I drink water on a daily basis. Sometimes a nice cool glass of water is what I want and sometimes a Miller Lite is what I want. But obviously other times I want a more aggressively flavored beer product, and on those occasions like discerning people throughout the country these days I often turned to ... an American beer. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of great beers being brewed all across this fine land of ours these days.

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Now here's what is true. Prohibition obviously put breweries out of business. And when Prohibition was repealed, an oddly fragmented regulatory system was put into place with lots of different state laws and the three-tier distribution system. That created a marketplace dominated by a small number of major brewers that optimized for low-cost massively scalable production models, resulting in low-flavor products and a heavy emphasis on marketing. Foreign countries that lacked America's peculiar regulatory history were friendlier to the development of more flavorful beers. But starting around 1980 a series of regulatory shifts began that encouraged more new breweries and brewpubs to open. This has proven to be a largely self-re-enforcing trend. The more that small breweries open and succeed, the more political interest there is in adopting regulations that are friendly to their creation. As recently as five years ago, there were no local breweries in D.C. But one opened a few years ago and its success led several others to open, and their success led to a regulatory change to make it easier to open brewpubs and now we have a couple of those.

Great local success stories like this are playing out in cities all across the country and there's no need to slight the entire industry based on a snobbish disdain for Budweiser (which is owned by a Belgian company anyway).

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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