Kegs: Weapons of Mass Drinking?
Boy, does this one ever piss me off.
I'm talking about keg registration, the latest bit of feel-good,
do-nothing, anti-alcohol legislative legerdemain to come out of
booze-bashing think-tanks (man, just look at all those hyphens!)
like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It's an evil rule-a-rama that
is sweeping the nation -- 23 states have keg registration laws of
one kind or another, along with local communities in other states...by
God, it sounds like Prohibition! It's a truly ham-handed approach
to underage drinking that once again punishes everyone in
an attempt to stop behavior that's only illegal because of poorly
reasoned, arbitrary laws.
Keg registration is about "control of access,"
an anti-alcohol buzzword that means making it a pain in the ass to
buy booze. These hurdles are ostensibly to make buying booze
more difficult for underage adults -- all those 18 to 20 year, 11
month, and 29 day olds who have jobs, are fighting in Iraq, are
raising children, and voting in national elections. But the real aim is
to make it harder for everyone to get a drink. "Stop the
kegger!" may be the battlecry, but stop all drinking is
the not-so-hidden subtext.
Let's get some facts. Keg registration means that every keg
purchase, from Johnny Underage using fake ID to get a half of
Milwaukee's Best to Cooper the Yuppie charging a sixtel of IPA
from his local brewpub to Joe Retiree paying cash for a half of
Milwaukee's Best for the kegerator at deer camp, has to fill out a long
form with all his personal information and pay a big deposit for
the keg. Depending on the locale, there may be variations: stupidly
huge fines for losing the flimsy "tag" that comes
with the keg (and we all know how much attention gets paid to pieces of
paper when the liter mugs come out), stupidly huge fines for
having an unregistered keg (better get rid of that college
souvenir), a limit on the number of kegs one person can purchase,
signing the form may mean that you agree to submit to a police search
of your home (yes, really), or a limit on how long you have to
return the keg (so drink up, grandpa!).
Then you take the keg home and the real fun begins. Oh,
not the party fun. The legal, bend-and-spread-'em, up against the
wall kind of fun. It goes something like this. Say the police pull
Paul over and he's legally drunk (the dangerous moron). They ask
him where he was drinking, and he says, Jim's house (the little
traitor). They go to Jim's house, pound on the door and poke Jim in
the chest with a nightstick, and tell him "We got you
red-handed, you beer supplier!" Then Jim says, it was a
block party, someone else brought the beer, I dunno who. Okay,
he's lying (and Paul could learn a lesson here, eh?), but who wouldn't?
The police seize the keg, read the code, and go to the
store and ask for the vital statistics on the purchaser. It's not
the store's fault, the guy who bought the beer was of age, no one
underage drank from the keg, the keg was self-serve and no one but
the drunk is responsible. But you better believe that if the
cops have gone to all this trouble, they're not going to say, 'Oh,
well, no harm, no foul,' and go back to their donuts with only a DUI
to their name. Someone's getting busted.
Funny thing is...I can't find any records of anyone getting
arrested on this law. All you find is confident projections of
how keg registration will cut down on underage drinking, and rosy
enthusiasm for the programs where they're in place. Why are
the police and neo-drys in the keg registering states happy? Because
keg sales are down. Oh, goody!
Come on! I've met some real nice cops, bright people, but they
must put the real possum-brains on D.A.R.E. duty. Kegs
are not beer. They are merely one container that beer comes
in. Underage drinking (and that's a term we're going to take a hard
look at in an upcoming Buzz) has not been affected by keg
registration laws in any way I've been able to find.
Why? Because demand for beer is hydraulic: if you push
it down in one place, it will just pop up in another. I
saw this in action back in the early 90's. Villanova University
enacted a keg ban on campus. Response by the students? They went
to local beer stores and started buying cases of cheap beer by the
truckload, 50 and 100 cases at a whack. When I did the research for
this piece I found the same thing. They either buy beer in
another container, or they buy gallons of cheap liquor and whomp up
trashcans full of "punch." Here, take a look:
From the Syracuse
University Daily Orange, March 3, 2004: "Instead
of raging keggers with numerous steel barrels of brew, many parties
around campus have switched to supplying stacks of 30-packs and
enormous vats of jungle juice to quench partygoers' thirst. (There's
some purple prose, eh?)
Retailers have felt the effects of this change. A handwritten sign
plastered inside the entrance of Lancaster Market, a source of party
provisions near campus, boasts: "30-Packs is the way to
go!" next to "KEGS," which is crossed out in red ink.
"The more you buy, the cheaper it gets," it adds.
Many SU students agree: binge drinking is both a guilty pleasure and
necessary evil of the typical college experience. Keg stands will be
missed, but recent registration laws won't interfere with
students' passion for partying.
"College students are going to drink if that's what they
want to do," Berenson said, "With or without kegs.""
From the Winona State
University Winonan, January 22, 2003: ""Party
balls have taken the place of our keg sales,” said
, co-owner of
. In the past,
Liquor sold up to 10 kegs a week to college students, but because of
the registration, now they don’t sell any. Deblon said they now
sell 10 to 12 party balls per week.
He said the store began carrying Everclear, a highly potent grain
alcohol, because of the requests from college students. Students
use the alcohol to make large amounts of wopatui, also called
jungle juice. During homecoming week, Everclear was a hot commodity among
area liquor stores, including Econo Liquor and Wine House."
What's next? Keg registration was a great success,
we'll be told, the number of keg parties is down to almost nothing!
Now we just have to put the same kind of registration in place for
anyone who wants to buy more than three cases of beer (and won't
it be fun if they want you to register growlers?),
or more than a gallon of liquor, or any amount of Everclear (you'll
never hear them talking about wine, of course), and we'll have this
Think that's ridiculous? Have another quote: "State
regulations currently require sales invoices be prepared at the licensed
premises - for the purchase of more than three cases - to show
the name and address of the recipient, the date of sale, what was
purchased, including the number of units, size, price and brand name,
according to Pinkham." That's from the Pottsville (PA) Republican,
August 9, 2000, and Donna Pinkham was the PA Liquor Control Board
press secretary at the time. These regulations were not enforced at
the time, but I understand from industry sources that a pilot
program requiring their enforcement has begun in southwestern
PA. And PA doesn't even have a keg registration law!
Why wait till this becomes onerous? Stop it now. If you've got
a keg registration law, ask your local police and your legislator what
the results have been, in measurable numbers. Write a letter
to the newspaper explaining that you're all for stopping underage
drinking, but why not use something that works? Better yet,
do like this Ohio University professor did and challenge
the law on constitutional grounds. If you don't have a keg
registration law where you live, find out if one's pending. If it
is, ask why, and ask for real numbers, not policy
But don't punish the innocent. I just had a keg at my house this
past weekend for a family celebration of my son's confirmation, Tröegs
Sunshine Pilsner (and yes, it was absolutely fantastic, thank
you Chris and John!). We tapped it, we drank it dry, and no
one who drank from it was underage, and no one hopped
in a car and drove away drunk. And to continue to enjoy this "privilege,"
you want me to waste five minutes of my life filling out a stupid
form, hand over all kinds of private information to someone who
probably has few compunctions about sharing it, and run the risk of forfeiting
up to $600 if I lose or damage a stinking piece of paper that's
attached to a keg in a tub full of ice and water? Hey, bite me!
You want to stop underage drinking? Lower the drinking age to
18, come up with a way to stop fake IDs, stop punishing the
retailer and try rewarding him instead. Most importantly, stop being
stupid about teaching kids about booze. But stop this stalking
horse of "control of access." Keg registration, case
registration, whatever new guise it takes, is part of the plan of
the new Prohibitionists. Fight it, and refuse to take part in