Barley, hops and bureaucrats

A glass of beer is slid down a beer shuffle board during Iowa City Brew Fest in this file photo. (Gazette archives)
A glass of beer is slid down a beer shuffle board during Iowa City Brew Fest in this file photo. (Gazette archives)

Every once in a while, everyone seems to be a libertarian.

Like earlier this month, when Iowa alcohol regulators issued a public bulletin warning that it’s a crime to import wine and beer from out of state, even for personal consumption. That includes a six-pack of regional brew from a neighboring state.

In response, I saw all kinds of Iowans — left, right, and apathetic — come together to mock and chastise the folly of overregulation. For a moment, drinkers across the political spectrum were united for limited government.

Luckily, I drink Busch Light, readily available anywhere. But many others have a taste for so-called craft beers, which often aren’t available nationwide, thanks to the government. Last year, two men in Minnesota were reportedly charged with illegally importing Spotted Cow kegs from Wisconsin to sell at their bar.

Officials at the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division told me they issued the latest warning in response to questions from the people. That office regulates liquor licensees rather than the general public, so rest assured, there is no impending crackdown on small-time beer smugglers.

“We would not have jurisdiction over anyone who is not licensed by the division. That would be up to local law enforcement,” said Stephanie Strauss, the division’s government relations director. “ … The education and outreach team wanted to put the response in writing, so they were responding the same way to every question they received about that.”

You might remember the division also generated headlines earlier this year when it warned bars not to serve vodka drinks in copper-lined mugs, like a traditional Moscow Mule. There was also a series of bulletins for business owners issued last year, but the notice about personal alcohol importation was the office’s first such notice directed specifically at consumers.

I don’t blame alcohol regulators for wacky or superfluous restrictions. Just like police, many government bureaucrats are dealt the impossible task of carrying out bad policies worked up by politicians.


Of course, there are more pressing issues facing our state than the right to drive beer across a bridge. But we Americans have sometimes taken bold moves to protect our beverages. Americans’ civic knowledge may be lacking, but they’ve surely heard something about the Boston Tea Party and Prohibition.

Beer consumers and producers in the United States suffer under a patchwork of overbearing regulations, which ultimately serve to protect some companies and hamper the growth of others.

Sure, it’s only beer this time. But the underlying belief — that government must intervene in the market, for our own good — is pervasive in our public policy, and ultimately leads to terrible economic consequences, not just annoying consumer roadblocks.

Dumb rules plague other industries as well, and the regulatory state has grown far beyond comprehension. Since no person could possibly know all the rules Americans are subject to, each of us is an ignorant outlaw.

Americans face grave challenges. Migrating your beer doesn’t need to be one of them.

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