Ok, so I lied. Well, kind of.
But, I received a letter penned by Fish Brewing Company’s Sandy Berry. Since I promised to kill talk of I-1100 on this blog, I shelved it. But with election day coming tomorrow, I thought I had an obligation to let a brewer speak his mind on the debate. This is especially true because this brewer takes the opposite position of many others.
Read the letter below, and remember to vote tomorrow:
Why this brewery does not fear I-1100
By Dr. Sandy Berry, Director of Fish Brewing Company in Olympia
“The Greatest Threat to the Washington Craft Brewing Industry in a Decade” is the well intentioned but misguided campaign of the Washington Brewers Guild against Initiative 1100, and is based on fear of the unknown. Get over it and remember your strengths: great beer.
The greatest strength of the craft beer revolution is the ability to connect the local beer consumer with the truly local small brewer. This was true early on, and the craft beer market is still at its foundation a brewpub revolution. It’s brewpubs operating as brewpubs – not as regional-bottling wannabes.
The craft beer market is immune to the fears of bottling distribution hassles: shelf-space, distributor attention and pay-to-play ploys. The ability of brewpubs and craft breweries to make and direct-distribute draft beer in local markets will remain intact under I-1100. You are still as likely to have a new brewpub open down the street and succeed because it is local and makes great fresh beer.
Dismantling direct liquor distributor control has not hurt California, which has a vibrant craft beer and small-wine industry.
The myth is that the three-tier system is a small brewery’s friend. All emerging small breweries or brewpubs have stories of underperforming distributors that they may be required to use to extend geographical reach. Distributorships are a protected business model, so they do not always service their customer: the beer producers.
Imagine under I-1100 that there were no territories, just the entire state, with anybody able to become a distributor. Only those who gave true value to their brewery producers would succeed.
The fear is the sky is falling and it will squash the poor little craft brewer. Guess what? It already has fallen, and the Washington craft brewers have prospered. Many taverns are what I call “yellow” beer taverns, and are purveyors of mega-brewery beers. The traditional beer factory syndicates have lost a generation of beer drinkers by not understanding the importance of craft beer.
Having more direct yellow taverns would not attract the craft beer drinker, who will continue to support taverns that have craft tap handles and have a very local flavor. Besides, we already have chain craft-beer establishments, which function like tied houses but are not legally tied houses – McMenamins, the RAM – and brewpubs remain successful.
The fear is craft brewers will lose shelf space to mass-produced beers. Please. The “safeguards” of the current system have been so often circumvented or rarely enforced that we may as well legally remove them. We make a better product, sold to loyal beer drinkers who like local, fresh and interesting beer.
Loss of shelf space to liquor is another false fear. Shelf space will remain in the larger grocery stores for craft beers, because it is high profit and high volume for the grocer.
The Washington Brewers Guild and all craft brewers should remember their strength: the public and most legislators support your success story. You have good political capital in Olympia. The Legislature will still likely have to look at the issues around beer, wine and spirits even after I-1100 passes.
It is at this point, after I-1100 becomes law, where I think the craft brewing community will have a voice in addressing the realistic concerns of our small businesses.
The unspoken fear from brewers: the upper side of the craft beer pyramid (bottling or regional craft brewers as opposed to the truly small and pub craft brewers) are loathe to offend the hand that they think feeds them: beer distributors.
They don’t wish to be seen in support of dissolving that same distributor business system, with whom many brewers are secretly frustrated.
It’s time for the industry as a whole to stop protecting one side from another, and instead support changes to the law that open the marketplace to competition and innovative free enterprise – the very mantra of the craft brewer.