Better Know a State's Liquor Laws - District O' Columbia Edition

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With the recent government shutdown and financial apocalypse finally behind us, both politicians and denizens alike can enjoy a cold brew. A nice, hard to come by, extremely rare brew should you be up for that kind of thing. DC has become a hot spot for craft beer with some fantastic bars serving up very hard to come by beverages within the tiny triangle. Want some Pliny the Elder? Three Floyds? Some obscure little brewery down the street in your neck of the woods? There is a good chance you could find all three at some location at any given time within the district.

My girlfriend lived in DC for a bit and always raved about the beer selection within walking distance. It seemed that obscure, delicious beers would skip over my state and somehow mysteriously accrue right around that region. I always had assumed it was due to a mixture of money and high society that would bring in the beer, but according to an article in the Washington City Paper, it has more to do with the ability to supply than the thirsty demand.

When a bar wants to purchase beer it must do so through a distributor who purchases it from the brewery. This is the three-tier system that was set up after prohibition and you may have heard Rob and I discuss its shortcomings on the podcast on more than one occasion. DC has an advantage because its laws allow it to circumvent the distributor in favor of buying directly from the brewery should no local distributor carry the desired beer in a suitable enough quantity. And when it comes to rare beers, no quantity is usually suitable.

The article highlights two owners of well known DC establishments who make the trek in personally rented vehicles to drive to here, there, and everywhere to pick up whatever can’t be found nearby. Greg Jasgur of Pizza Paradiso was able to turn a personal relationship into the two of the three Floyds of Three Floyds brewing company into some of the rare beers available off-menu at the restaurant. He frequently makes treks to different breweries to keep the small chain of brick oven pizzeria craft beer havens well supplied. Amy Bowman of the Black Squirrel in Adam’s Morgan saw an opportunity to provide a small taste of home for some people. Many of the patrons of her restaurant, ex-pats from all over the country, could find that little known beer from a brewery only they thought they knew about.

The price for all of this? Well, it is DC. Circumventing the middle man can mean savings if you are able to subtract a lot of the bureaucracy involved. Montgomery County, located Northwest of DC, requires bars to place a liquor order through the county, adding paperwork and more importantly markup to any product they want to purchase and then resell. The cost of dealing with the government of DC to bootleg some beer? 5 bucks for a permit per trip, excluding the taxes that must be paid on the volume of alcohol imported. Of course, this doesn’t take into account the overhead one must deal with. Diesel fuel and truck rentals can become costly, with that cost going directly to the imbiber. A bottle of Pliny the Elder can be almost five times the cost in DC than it would be anywhere on the west coast, where it is brewed.

Overall this can mean your wallet crying out in agony, but one can always argue that it’s still less expensive than round trip airfare to Santa Rosa, California. If you ever find yourself on yet another family tour of the Washington Monument, perhaps you can sneak away to the Meridian Pint for a rare brew or two.

Source:Washington City Paper