In the pre-prohibition era, U.S. beer producers sold their product mostly in kegs and all sales were to saloons within 60 miles of their production facility. This system allowed the brewer to handle their own distribution and the ability to hand choose where their product was served. Unlike todays model where a brewers beer can be found at multiple places in a single community, brewers back then would try to get the most popular saloon for their product. Once they successfully landed the popular local watering hole, the brewer worked to retain their exclusivity on the location, through methods such as purchasing the liquor license for the saloon, or helping the saloon through various monetary incentives. This model of business is referred to as the tied-house system, where the breweries were strongly linked to the retail outlets, or saloons that sold beer for consumption. However, the tied-house system had its flaws, and the temperance movement leveraged these flaws to help form the basis for prohibition.
Fast forward to the 1930s and the end of prohibition. In an attempt to control beer prices, the brewers worked together to draft the Code of Fair Competition signed by the U.S. President in 1933 that prevented tied-houses. This legislation eventually (not without its own bumps and bruises) became the three-tier system of distribution that still exists today.
The three-tier system is composed of:
- Tier 1 : The Brewer
- Tier 2 : The Independent Distributor
- Tier 3 : The Retailer
While the creation of the three-tier system solved many of the early problems, it is not without its own problems. In an attempt to learn more about the distribution system and the associated problems first hand, I am setting out to obtain and sample some beer from all of the states in a single year (And try some great beer along the way!). This blog will cronicle this adventure. It will be about the beer, how it was made, where it was made and how it got from the brewery to my house in Massachusetts.
As if that isn’t enough of a challenge, I will also try to sample the beers in the order the state joined the union. There are 52 weeks in a year and there are 50 states. Starting with Delaware, I will attempt to progress, each week from Delaware in the first week of January, to Pennsylvania in week two, and continue on as far into the year as possible.
I hope you join me in this adventure.
* Much of the historical information in this post came from the excellent paper by Fogarty : From saloon to supermarket: packaged beer and the reshaping of the U.S. brewing industry.