The government wants to give beer lovers more choices than the usual suspects when they reach for a drink — and help them pay less for whatever they choose.

As part of a larger Biden administration effort to boost competition in all sorts of industries, the government is looking at ways to loosen the grip of a few big beer companies that control 65% of the market.

The answers could include everything from rethinking how beers are displayed on store shelves to considering whether brews can be shipped straight to doorsteps.


The Treasury Department came up with its list of suggestions this month in response to a July executive order by President Joe Biden to develop a plan to improve small business access to the alcohol industry.

The department issued a 64-page report that looks at how state alcohol laws affect competition for smaller brewers. Bob Pease, CEO of the Brewers Association for small and independent craft brewers, says the report is a good first step, but “there is a lot of work yet to be done” to level the playing field.


“What’s happening is that the competitive landscape has shifted,” Pease said. “And antitrust enforcement is critical for the ability of smaller producers to compete.”

It’s increasingly difficult to compete as a small outfit, especially after massive mergers between big breweries, like the $107 billion merger between Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller, Pease said. Small brewers complain that distributors work primarily with large companies and retailers slot beer in preferred locations on shelves, despite a ban on the practice.

Jim McGreevy, president of the Beer Institute, which represents the country’s biggest beermakers, said the report is a “mischaracterization of the thriving American beer industry.”

“Consumers are benefiting from the growing number of brewers and beer importers, with more choices for beer than at any other time in our nation’s history,” he said in a statement.

The Census Bureau reported that there were 4,217 breweries in 2019, about 80% of which have fewer than 20 employees. There has been a roughly tenfold increase in breweries with fewer than 20 workers since 2009.

The issue of a few companies dominating the market extends beyond beer and wine makers to the larger economy, says Matthew Weinberg, a professor at Ohio State University who studies anticompetition issues.


Weinberg, who has researched the effects of beer company mergers, found that mergers can result in price increases to consumers, even though companies say that they lower costs.

Pease says his association is working on building solutions for smaller brewers where federal enforcement is lacking.

“What has been a consistent pattern over the past 12 to 24 months is wholesaler consolidation, where there are fewer and fewer beer distributors, which inhibits small brewers’ ability to go to market,” he said. “What we’re doing now is pushing for direct to consumer shipping.”

Most states including Washington restrict direct shipment of beer to customers, but at least 12 states including Florida, Hawaii and West Virginia have started to allow the practice. Washington and most other states allow the direct shipment of wine.

“State officials need to evaluate the direct-to-consumer distribution model,” both in terms of opportunities for small producers and the risks of making alcohol available to underage drinkers, the report says.

It added that “such balancing of public policy values is best addressed by a democratically-elected legislature.”