Questions about flyin’ taproom biz; testy takes on supplier-distributor disputes; acknowledgement of stepped-up trade practice enforcement: plenty of hot topics discussed at recent CLE Wine, Beer and Spirits Law conference. Lawyers, economists and regulators, not always known for bringing the heat, ratcheted up rhetoric and shared some notable insights during the meeting. Collaborative presentation from industry economists Lester Jones of NBWA and Bart Watson of Brewers Assn wasn’t exactly the “Rumble” promised. But it did come with Lester’s assertion that “we just don’t know how much beer is going direct to consumers” right now. “How much verification is going on in this world?” he asked, raising further questions about whether small brewers are tracking and paying taxes for all beer sold on site. “I think the idea that small brewers aren’t paying their taxes is quite frankly fairly ridiculous,” Bart shot back, arguing that inconsistent or lack of reporting just ain’t widespread enough to be big concern. “I didn’t know that distributors were the only people who can keep track of beer volumes,” he quipped. (Note: pieces of this article previously appeared in sister-pubs INSIGHTS Express and beer marketer’s INSIGHTS.)
Bart and Lester did agree that “where people are drinking beer is changing,” as Bart said. As long as taprooms are “well regulated, they’re clearly something consumers want,” he argued before noting that traditional bars have “been going out of favor for a long time.” NAICS data shows that number of bars dropped from about 55K in 2001 to less than 45K in 2016. But most of that drop occurred before 2010, when brewery (and taproom) count really started taking off. It’s “not a competition for a drink anymore,” Lester said, noting appearance of alc bevs all over: “it’s competition for time.” He’s seen changed attitudes toward alcohol, especially as many millennials not home owners or parents and baby boomers “unencumbered” by kids and “ready to party.” But those generations and feelings about alcohol will continue to shift. And “the idea of experimenting with alcohol will be gone” or “a lot less significant,” in his view….