Staff Columnist

Tipsy on deregulation, Iowa is part of canned booze revolution

'The can is the people's drinking receptacle.'

By every metric, and no matter who is calculating the data, the growth of hard seltzer has been astounding. Sales are up
By every metric, and no matter who is calculating the data, the growth of hard seltzer has been astounding. Sales are up 210% in the past six months. (Abel Uribe/Shannon Kinsella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

We may be living in the golden age of canned booze.

One can hardly walk past the helpful smiles in the Hy-Vee aisles without stumbling over a display for a new hard seltzer. Craft beer brewers have been offering more and more canned selections the past several years. And changes to Iowa law are clearing the way for even more liquor in your aluminum.

The Iowa Senate this month approved a bill supported by the brewing industry that would allow licensed beer manufacturers to possess liquor to be used in canned cocktails. Senate approval makes the proposal eligible for House consideration later this legislative season. It’s a follow-up to legislation passed last year to deregulate the newly popular drinks.

Last year, the Iowa Legislature passed and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law allowing premixed liquor drinks with up to 15 percent alcohol to be regulated like beer. Also in 2019, Iowa approved legislation to increase the alcohol limit in beer from 5 percent to 6.5 percent. Those reforms allow more Iowa businesses — such as those without a full liquor license, which is more expensive than a beer license — to carry a wider variety of canned drinks with more alcohol. That allows Iowans greater participation in the ongoing canned booze bump.

While selling bottled alcohol dates back hundreds of years old, canned beer is a 20th century invention. The first mass production of beer in a can is widely reported to be from Virginia in 1935. Approaching a century later, overcoming the challenges of safely canning carbonated, slightly acidic beverages stands as a testament to the ingenuity of Americans who like to party.

However, canned drinks have long been looked down upon by certain communities of drinkers. Highbrow aficionados insist they can taste the metal, even in modern cans with inner coating meant to protect the beverage.

It turns out elite tastes are no match for the power of the mass market. Because of its weight and durability, aluminum is more economical than glass for manufacturers to distribute and easier for consumers to tote around to barbecues and tailgates.

The can is the people’s drinking receptacle. It’s the tool that allows beverage businesses to flood local liquor shops and grocery stores across America with hundreds of different ways to get tipsy.

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Business analysts report sales of canned cocktails and wine are growing quickly. Hard seltzer already has become a sizable market of its own. And craft brewers slowly are shifting some of their beers from bottles to cans.

It is a wonder that humans have been concocting alcoholic beverages for thousands of years, yet our species still is innovating.

The latest developments and successes in canned drinks were possible only because the country is moderately easing up on our extremely restrictive alcohol regulations, which are a confusing patchwork of state, local and federal laws. As I wrote last year on the canned cocktail bills, “There is little thirst among Iowa policymakers for a robust liberalization of liquor restrictions.”

Just imagine the new ways Americans might imbibe if we had a free and open market for adult beverages. Seltzers bubblier, boozier and more subtly flavored than you ever imagined in your wildest dreams.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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