In the summer between high school and college my buddies and I decided to celebrate our high school graduation by taking a road trip to New Orleans.
We selected New Orleans for because in Louisiana the drinking age was 18. At that time and it was legal to drink beer, wine, and liquor. The legal age in Texas was 21, so we were all looking forward to this new experience. I still fondly remember arriving and walking into a bar in the French Quarter and ordering a mixed drink.
The Vietnam War was at its peak, and within 18 months, eight of my friends were serving in the US Navy. In addition to heading to college, we all were just a couple of months shy of voting in our first presidential election. While we all were just 18 or 19 years old, we felt we had arrived at adulthood.
Fueled by the coming of age of the boomer generation, along with the war, almost all the states lowered their legal drinking age to 18, even the state of Texas lowered their legal age of consumption.
In the early 1980s, the legal age was still 18 when I owned the Schlitz distributorship. The territory included South Padre Island, a primary destination for spring breakers. With Texas having 18 as the legal drinking age, almost all college students were able to drink. This made the month of March my biggest volume month of the year.
With the war long over, the federal government decided to withhold highway funding to states that retained their legal age for alcohol consumption under the age of 21. It took some time, but it was not long before all the states, including Louisiana, raised their legal age to 21. Sales volume at spring break that first year was a nightmare. It turned into an economic disaster for many industries including motels, restaurants, and gas stations, all feeling the effects of raising the legal drinking age. The states also felt the crunch as millions were lost in tax dollars.
Now, 30 years later, we are seeing the rapid growth of craft beers, mostly fueled by the Millennials (the always connected generation), but we are also seeing the total beer industry continue to decline in overall volume. Aging boomers, the competition from the wine and spirits side, pressure from the anti-alcohol groups, and other areas including the economy, have all contributed to the industries’ decline.
The industry is split between the crafts, and their goals, which do not fit into what the NBWA and what its members are willing to do. The BA and the BI have bills in Congress, which translates to the members as a split industry. Therefore, neither one will get passed.
So the question is, can the industry find any common ground on which all sides can agree on, and work to help grow the overall industry? The Millennials, just as the Boomers, are changing the alcoholic industry and with 20+ million more under the LDA, will continue to do so for some time.
The Millennials could be the generation to jump start the growth once again and it might entail lowering the legal age for just beer. With a united industry, the change could happen. Remember, the future is just the past disguised as the present.