A tsunami of kegs

Beer and wine and airplanes and history and lies. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

“We drank beer,” Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh said during his contentious 2018 confirmation hearings. “My friends and I. Boys and girls. Yes, we drank beer. I liked beer. Still like beer. We drank beer."

Yes, that was nearly two years ago; no, I’m not trying to rehash old political fights.

It’s just that it’s literally the first quote that came to mind, and made me laugh, when I heard about the new restrictions aboard American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. (But not United.)

In short, the carriers announced they’ll no longer serve or allow alcohol aboard their planes for the foreseeable future, due to Covid-19. They don’t want people taking their masks off more than necessary.

Also, they’re trying to limit trips to the bathroom, which can be more common when — wait, I don’t need to explain that part.

Exceptions exist of course. On Delta the prohibition (ahem) applies only to domestic flights; on American you can still drink alcohol in first and business classes or “long haul flights.” Some foreign carriers are doing similar things.

No sooner had I read about the airline booze ban, than I saw that the entire beer industry in the U.S. is facing an unusual problem at the same time, also due to Covid-19.

Specifically, expired beer — millions of gallons of it, all going to waste. That’s because of thousands of untapped kegs, which were purchased but left to go stale in bars, restaurants and stadiums across America.

It turns out there’s a simple but delicate supply chain involved with keg beer: full kegs get delivered to bars, restaurants, stadiums and other customers, then empty kegs come back.

But with venues closed and stadiums hosting nobody, kegs are coming back full. It’s kind of like an I Love Lucy assembly line sketch, since they can’t just dump the beer and nobody wants to drink it.

The lost sales will add up to about an $800 million to $1 billion hit across the beer industry. (Also, colleges sent everyone home, which Bloomberg did not mention as a cause—but having been a college student once, I mean, come on.)

“This is a tsunami of kegs,” John Hanselman, chief executive officer of Vanguard Renewables, told Bloomberg. His firm is taking 60,000 gallons each week, “to feed expired beer to micro-organisms in biodigestors that release methane, the primary component of natural gas.”

This led me down a rabbit hole, trying to figure out whether Covid-19 might be, at least partially, doing what the Eighteenth Amendment never was able to. Along the way I found Theresa McCulla, curator of the American Brewing History Initiative at the National Museum of American History.

Yes, the Smithsonian has someone whose job is to study the history of beer. She says it serves as a proxy for the history of almost every other social phenomenon in U.S. history.

"If you want to talk about the history of immigration in America, or urbanization or the expansion of transportation networks, really any subject that you want to explore, you can talk about it through beer," McCulla told NPR in an interview.

Tempering the movement toward temperance, as you might imagine, is the fact that sales and consumption of alcohol at home have been through the roof since the start of lockdowns.

One study found alcohol sales were up 34.2 percent during one week in May compared to a year ago; another analysis from Nielsen says that during the whole lockdown period, sales were up 16 percent compared to a year ago.

But the same time, about 63 percent of Americans self-reported that they were drinking no more now than they had been before coronavirus.

So in the end, some things never change: As we learned during Prohibition, people are probably going to drink. And, they’re also probably going to lie about it.

7 other things worth your time

  • The FBI arrested a woman who allegedly torched a police car during the unrest that followed peaceful protests in Philadelphia last month. They say they path to finding her started by searching for the unique t-shirt she’d been wearing, finding it on Etsy, and then discovering that she’d left a 5-star review on the site. From there, they say the tracked her public info all over the Internet. (ABC 6)

  • The Atlanta police officer who shot Rayshard Brooks, Garrett Rolfe, is now facing felony murder charges—which could result in life without parole or the death penalty. The other officer involved, Devin Brosnan, will testify against Rolfe and is facing an aggravated assault charge. (NPR)

  • As a reader pointed out to me that when I listed the potential start dates for various pro sports recently, I skipped the National Women’s Soccer League, which is scheduled to beat them all. The league resumes play June 27. (Insider)

  • “Pandemic pricing.” Rents are reportedly falling across the country, as a result of “economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.” (CNN)

  • Journalists have copies of John Bolton’s 592(!)-page book about President Trump. Top headline is probably his claim that Trump asked President Xi Jinping of China for help to win the 2020 election. Meanwhile, the administration filed for a restraining order (after the book was out, so I don’t really get it), while they’re considering criminal charges against Bolton. (Washington Post, $; Axios; Los Angeles Times, $)

  • A novice 20-year-old investor who opened a brokerage account on Robinhood during the pandemic took his own life, reportedly after the app showed (perhaps incorrectly) that he had a negative $730,165 cash balance. (Forbes)

  • Aunt Jemima pancake syrup will get a new name and image, after the company that owns it, Quaker Oats, acknowledged the 130-year-old brand’s origins are “based on a racial stereotype.” (NBC News)

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