Wicked Weed has decided it needs a distributor. I heard through others that this was happening in January. I don’t see distributors as the enemy. I don’t necessarily see them as the friend of craft beer either. They are another part of the system. Unless you plan on changing the whole 3 tier system, distributors will be part of it.
A pattern is emerging. American craft beer and American beer in general is going through a lot of changes. The big beer companies are scared so they do what the overly rich do when they see a threat, the purchase and/or coopt it. At the state level, most states still have Prohibition era or post-Prohibition alcohol laws that seek to keep people from drinking alcohol instead of making sure people are able to enjoy alcohol legally and safely.
The last two links are to the same story out of Oklahoma. Here and here are articles about proposed state alcohol laws that will expand alcohol sales to grocery and convenience stores. I understand the Oklahoma Retail Liquor Association coming out against the bill. They are trying to protect their constituents. However, the temerity, the unmitigated brass coconut sized balls it takes for AB to even suggest they would pull out of the state of Oklahoma if this law passes is laughable.
The week moves on and Thursday is here. This has always been a weird day to me. The week is almost over, but not quite. You still have to work the next day, but you know the atmosphere is a little more relaxed. Anyway, with legislative sessions around the country getting started this month, there is a lot of movement in the beer law front. To continue yesterday’s theme, here are a few articles on beer and alcohol laws around the country.
Here is an article about “strange” alcohol laws. I guess in the time I’ve been doing this blog and reading about beer and alcohol laws around the country, these don’t seem so strange to me. The only thing I really find strange are the laws that limit production or direct sales to customers. The limit on where you can buy beers over a certain ABV are not strange as much as they seem arbitrary.
Here is a deep dive into the Georgia brewery law saga. In a nutshell, the legislature lets wholesalers craft a brewery law that took away the breweries ability to sell directly to consumers. The law seemed to give brewers some new abilities to sell tours. Then the Georgia Department of Revenue read the law and interpreted it in a way that took away the very rights it was supposed to grant brewers. The new compromise law to replace the one past last year simply brings brewers back to where they were in 2015 before the Department of Revenue actually read what the law said.
Mississippi continues to move its alcohol laws towards the 21st century. One of the interesting things about alcohol laws is that many times throughout history these laws have changed and evolved in order to raise tax revenue. I honestly believe that is the true reason states are crafting laws that open up the craft brew industry in their states. There is money to be made and every legislator wants a piece of it.
The Five Articles are a little late this morning, but here they are. This is the first day this year, where I had more articles than I had slots. That is a good feeling. The world is starting to right itself after the holiday season. Onto the list.
Laws and legislation. Growing pains and adolescence. One of the things that fascinate me about Major League Soccer is that we sports fans, specifically soccer fans, get to watch a top flight league grow and develop in real time. It is a messy and confounding thing to watch. There are 10 steps forward, two backwards, and three sideways at every phase of growth. Craft beer is kind of in the same position. Actually, a better analogy might be a band. Bands form and they play any show they can get and they sell music directly to potential fans and develop a loyal and strong following if they are good. Then, at some point, they go from being the little band that could to headlining their first tour. Then, they stop being just a band and become a business and they have business worries. That is where craft beer is now.
Should the state of North Carolina be in the alcohol business? First, the state is tasked by the US Constitution to regulate alcohol in its borders, so the state will be involved in some capacity always. Second, if you want to change thegovernment’s level of involvement, good luck. That is a decades-long fight that no one has the stomach for right now. Politicians do things for two reasons. The first, to get their name associated with a bill that will create jobs and/or increase tax revenue. The second, to keep from being embarrassed. Unless and until, OMB, NoDa, and Red Oak can prove that allowing them to self-distribute more than 25000 barrels a year the legislation will languish in committee. In this case, embarrassment isn’t working because the distributors and big beer give enough money to make it not work.
The point in your life when you realize you are at least partially a grown us is when you are faced with a decision between doing what you need to do to be responsible and doing what you want to do. When you start choosing the need to do direction you’re a grown up. Breweries suing smaller breweries over potential intellectual property issues is a need to do situation. This is my second prediction of what will happen this year in craft beer, craft beer will grow up and increasingly think of itself as a business.
This is one case where embarrassment is working. The Georgia legislature passed a law that was written in part by big distributors. It has a Rube Goldberg feel to it that got exposed by the Department of Revenue. Now they are trying to fix it.
Alabama steps into the 21st century as far as its beer laws are concerned. The craft beer people in Alabama did exactly what I said you have to do. They appealed to the legislators with more revenue and jobs. Politicians work to get reelected. Doing things that make them look good and/or raise tax revenues without raising taxes and provide jobs is how they get reelected. Either that or carrying the water for a lobbyist that gives them lots of money to go their reelection.
Beer isn’t a widget. Beer isn’t a sprocket or any other industrial product made by factories. Big beer companies, one, in particular, doesn’t get the distinction. They have until this point failed to understand craft beer because at the upper reaches of the company they think of beer as a product and may as well be making widgets for cars. That is why they are buying craft brewers: to take advantage of the loyalty and creativity of craft drinkers and craft brewers. If ABInbev was smart they would buy these regional breweries and leave them alone, but provide them with greater distribution. However, that isn’t what is going to happen. They are going to try to “fix” these brewers and make them more efficient and make their product more accessible to the everyday beer drinker. That is why this strategy will “fail” eventually. I may not think these acquisitions are some kind of death knell, however, I do not like them. I do not like them because they are assimilation that will eat at what makes craft beer special which is the individuality and creativity of each brewer. The culture of craft beer is as important as the beer. Primary in that is that it treats beer with respect and as the end unto itself letting the beer be what sells itself. That is why we in craft beer must be vigilant and must keep supporting our local brewers as much as we can.
Here is an article about some of the better rye beers on the market. Craft brewers are experimenting with rye more and more these days. They started doing that because rye provides and interesting taste as well as being an interesting brewing experiment. You don’t get that creativity in a company that looks for least common denominator beer tastes.
I’m back at home from Asheville. There will be a blog post summarizing the trip with photos. There was no Five Articles yesterday because I didn’t find five articles worth writing about. Then I got back home and slept. I start my study for the Cicerone today as soon as this is posted.
This saddens me. I love Ska’s beer, but this is what happens when you the number of breweries in your state explode like North Carolina. Ska isn’t one of the huge names in brewing. The average person who is just coming to craft beer in North Carolina has not heard of Ska Brewing. Out of state breweries like Ska, Mad River, or Alpine have a hard hill to climb to just get their foot in the door right now.
I’ll be interested to see how this works because I have questions. At what level of beer sales must you get to in order to participate in this keg program? There is no way it can involve self-distribution, which means this will only involve third party distributors of mostly big brands. I think it will simplify their lives, but no one else’s.
Why did it take 12 years for someone to buy this place and start renovating it? I don’t understand how municipalities let huge tracts of land and abandoned building stay dormant for so long. Those spaces, sitting empty, add no value of any kind and they usually look horrible. From seeing this happen in other places, I think one of two things delays getting the are renovated. In a perfect situation, there are too many people with too many ideas and not enough money competing. In the bad situation, the property owners think what they have is worth more then it actually is and make unreasonable demands. Eventually, someone gets enough money to make something happen and/or the property owners figure out it’s better to sell then keep paying taxes on empty space.
As Christmas approaches, you would think the news would slow down, but no. Craft beer Twitter got a big hit yesterday in the middle of the morning as some New Belgium news dropped. Then AB continued its buying spree.
“Hey, our beer sucks, but look at the shiny new can!” I will say again, if this company would spend as much money on making the beer it actually owns better instead of on shiny new things that have nothing to do with the beer, they wouldn’t have to go around buying brewers that actually make good beer.
Cicerone.org presents its 11th Master Cicerone. At some point in the next say 5 years, this is one my goals. First, I want to get Cicerone certified by the end of this year. I’m not worried about the written and practical parts of the exam (I am going to start studying in earnest in 13 days) as much as I’m worried about the tasting session. Developing my palate has been a lot of what I’ve been doing this past year. Wish me luck.
I was sitting and relaxing with a cup of coffee before heading into Craft for the day when on my Twitter timeline dropped a link to a Reuters report that New Belgium is looking to find a buyer after getting a valuation of $1 billion. I don’t know what that means. Are they going to sell or are they looking for outside investors? What it does show is that it is a brewer in a hugely transitional point in its history.
Meanwhile, AB continues picking off low hanging fruit. I always love when the people selling say, “This will change nothing. We will continue to make the same high-quality beer we always have.” AB didn’t buy you for you to keep doing things the way you always have. They bought you to bring you into the Borg Collective. You have been assimilated. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but you will become part of the whole.
The Friday before Christmas means many, many Christmas parties. We had 4 at once last night. If you’ve been to Craft, you know it’s not that big. Anyway on to the Five Articles. It is the end of year and writers are looking back at the year in beer.
A view of Queen City Q’s stance against AB from the west coast. This what AB didn’t understand. First, they didn’t understand their “incentive” program would see the light of day. Second, they didn’t understand that many retailers are not beholden to their brands. Finally, somehow, they still don’t understand the antipathy the craft beer world has for them. Yes, they have bought craft brands, but they have not allowed any of the ideas that fuel the craft world to enter their way of thinking. They have the same belief many do: We exist and have for a long time, therefore, we will always exist. History is full of businesses and governments that seemed ubiquitous and unkillable. They were all wrong.
Distribution and distribution rights are not sexy. Multi-billion dollar mergers and big excise tax bills that bring people to Washington, DC are sexy. They get you on CSPAN and news networks. However, it is distribution where the biggest issues that brewers face are located. Fighting AB and keeping them from buying or bribing distributors and chain restaurants/grocery stores is where the action is. That should be the focus of brewers and their state guilds as well as the Brewers Association during this next year.
This is where the fights have to take place. On the state level in state legislatures and state courts. Yes, they are treating beer wholesalers unfairly in Indiana. That doesn’t mean the law is illegal. It means you have to change the law at the legislative level which is often difficult since in many states some of the most powerful politicians and/or lobbyists are alcohol distributors.
Today’s Five Articles coming at you like a 1980s mobster in New York shaking you down for protection money. That may seem like a forced analogy until you read two of the articles and realize that is exactly what they talk about from a corporate sense.
We start in Charlotte where a local restaurant chain, Queen City Q, has pulled all AB products from its 4 locations. Why? Because AB is running pay for play at bars and restaurants across the country. They call it “marketing” but really it’s just, “We’ll give you an extra $10000 if you let us keep 5 taps all year.” Normally, I try to be more circumspect in my accusations like this, but I know this stuff is true and it happens. Here is my whole problem with AB: It is a large multinational company that may as well make widgets. They ultimately don’t care about the quality of their beer product they just care if people buy it. That is the difference between them and almost every craft brewer. The craft brewer wants people to buy his/her product but wants to win that market share through quality beer and not marketing.
This is tangentially about beer but stay with me. Most breweries and craft beer bars have live music at least once a week. They also play music over their speaker systems during the day. Recently, shakedown artists from music publishers have been going around to breweries and bars demanding money if they have live music. This is literally a shakedown. It is, “give us an exorbitant amount of money or we will sue you.” I am a person who never used Napster and has paid for every bit of music he owns, so I think artists should get paid for their work. However, these thick-necked jerks don’t work for the artists, they work for the publishers, groups who have historically been the ones screwing artists.
The only time I am ever really annoyed at customers is when they come in and ask me which beer has the highest ABV. They are looking to get drunk and that is it. If you want to do that, there are many more efficient and cheaper ways to go about it. I am of the pub culture. I want to sit and drink and ponder over a balanced highly flavored beer. I want to actually taste the beer. I want to notice the color, the head, the clarity, the aroma, the mouthfeel, and all the other things that go into actually tasting a beer. That is even if I’m just sitting in a bar. In those situations, I still take the time to look, smell, and taste the entirety of the beer. This is one of the many areas of life in which I think I was born in the wrong time and in the wrong place.