28 May 2011

In Memoriam HB660 and HB602, a Vow, and a Call to Action

I have spent a few depressed days after the deaths of HB 602 and HB 660 reflecting on the truth of Will Rogers' words: "We have the best government money can buy."  We no longer have a democracy.  We have a government for corporations.  All laws in the country are crafted to benefit corporations, and ignore the citizens.

I have read several blog posts who were more able to put those feelings into words.  They inspired me to write this post.

The Problems

I don't think it's really necessary to recount the perfidy of beer and wine distributors, AB InBev and MillerCoors.  But I'm going to do it anyway.

The National Beer Wholesalers of America is currently having their employees in Congress craft what is ironically called the CARE (Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness) Act.  Wrapped in a cloak of States Rights, this bill is intended to stop Internet sales of alcohol and put more power into the hands of distributors.  If you like California or Texas wine and live in Maine, for Example, you can order wine on the Internet for delivery to your home.  Under the "CARE" Act, ordering wine or beer from another state will become illegal.  It would also prohibit anyone from bring suit against the government, which would violate the Constitution.

Remember BrewMasters?  I watched the show, liked it in principle, but found it less a treatise on brewing that the Church of His Holiness Sam Caligione found it, and more of a "Ace of Cakes" type of show. And that is not a bad thing. Six episodes were produced, only five were aired. in five different time slots.  To me, it looked like Discovery was trying to kill the show.  Turns out, they were.  Anthony Bourdain, host of No Reservations, Tweeted in March that Budweiser told Discovery to cancel the show or they would pull their advertising.

This was followed by an interesting show called "How Beer Saved the World" on the Discovery Channel. This show chronicled the impact of beer on civilization in a humorous and interesting way, but appeared to be an hour long advertisement for MillerCoors, with fairly heavy handed product placement clips of Miller Lite throughout.  I'm sure AB InBev had a few choice words for Discovery after that!

Currently, AB InBev is attempting to overturn an Illinois law banning out of state breweries from self-distributing.  AB InBev does not have a brewery in Illinois but they want to buy a distributor in that state. (It probably also has something to do with their purchase of Goose Island.)  Since AB InBev has deep pockets and can buy all the votes they need, this will effectively kill independent Illinois based brewers.

Meanwhile, MillerCoors has opened a front in the Craft Beer Wars in Wisconsin, home to my beloved New Glarus.  Their corporate legislators have introduced a bill that would remove the option of a brewer to choose to self-distribute, require new distributors to have 25 accounts before they can get a license, prohibit a brewery from owning two restaurants (think BJ's or Gordon Biersch), and would prohibit a distributor from investing in a Wisconsin brewery but allow investment in an out-of-state or foreign brewery.

Here in Texas, AB InBev at first supported HB602, which would allow breweries producing under 75,000 barrels to sell a six pack of product at the conclusion of a paid tour.  The bill passed the House unanimously, and then, suddenly, AB InBev realized that they were excluded from the six pack sale.  AB InBev does not offer tours of its Houston plant (which produces 3.2 million barrels a year or 3,192,500 barrels more than the cap), but they might, perhaps, possibly, maybe, one day, be willing to want to think about doing a tour, and would be left out.  Even more galling, the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas would only support HB602 with the production cap.  They knew that their employees in the Senate, and the Lieutenant Governor's office, would kill the bill when AB InBev complained.  (For the record, I don't care for the cap.)

And HB660, which would have allowed brew pubs to sell beer to distributors for sale to retail accounts, never made it out of commitee. Nor did the bill that would allow distilleries like Garrison Brothers to sell bottles after tours, like you can do at Jack Daniels in Tennessee or Makers Mark in Kentucky.

As other bloggers have pointed out, there's a lot of blame to go around: Big Brewers, Distributors, Lobbyists, timid politicians, the small brewers, and us beer geeks.

Industry Solutions

OpenMarket.org suggested that it's time for Texas' alcohol producers to band together to defend their right to produce and market their products.  The wine lobby in Texas is stronger than WBDT.  They can sell at the winery, they can have a restaurant and sell to distributors, they are exempt from  booth fees at events, and can even sell their wine in dry counties.  They use the cudgel of the economic impact of Texas wine tourism, second only to Napa, California's.

What author Michelle Minton suggested is that Texas beer and spirit producers join with the Texas wine lobby to create a stronger organization to effect change in Texas' antiquated, Byzantine liquor laws.

Consumer Solutions

Beer Geeks like you and I have to do something too. We need to be vocal in our support of Texas Craft Beer. Barleyvine.com gave these suggestions:
  • Ask for Texas Craft Beer at every restaurant you dine at.  Write them letters.  Remind them that the customer is always right. Post on their Facebook page.  Talk to the manager.  Be polite and courteous. If they don't want to carry Texas Craft Beer, then vote with your wallet and eat elsewhere.
  • Introduce your BMC-drinking friends to Texas Craft Beer.  Encourage them to switch to locally produced beer.  (You don't have to stop being their friend if they don't, though.;) )
  • Vote.  When your local rep comes, hat in hand, asking for your vote, ask them if they will vote for Texas brewery rights.  If they try to avoid the question, pin them down.  Let them know that your vote is contingent on their answer.  Until we make our reps understand that they represent us, not large, multi-national corporations.  Find out who contributes to their campaigns.  Find out which bills they support.  Hold them accountable for their positions.  Don't just blindly assume your rep is a good guy, and that it is the other reps fault.  And if your rep supports Texas craft beer, make sure you support them as loudly and as publicly as you can.  Brewtiful.com added: Unelect those who aren't with us and shame those on the fence.
Brewtiful.com posted an eloquent three part rant about Texas Beer Laws, and suggested that Texas Beer Geeks should become evangelists for Texas Beer.  If you're going to GABF or Dark Lord Day, take Texas beer.  I am taking a dozen bottles of Texas beer to the National Homebrewers Conference in San Diego.  None of the beer is distributed outside the state. (Hell! most of it isn't distributed in the Great Texas Craft Beer Desert™.)

Another great Brewtiful.com suggestion is that we form our own PAC:
"If InBev and NBWA can lobby, so, too, can beer geeks.  Let’s start our own lobbying group and Take it to The Man. . .I’m tired of letting these yahoos in Austin dictate beer law, especially now when it is now crystal clear that Austin only cares about huge, international corporations and lobbyists, and not their Texas citizens. . .If craft beer enthusiasts remain isolated from each other, we remain weak; if we band together in furtherance of a common goal – I believe we can achieve real, meaningful change."
Mississippi has Raise Your Pints, Alabama has Free the Hops, England has CAMRA.  Maybe we could energize Texas Beer Freedom, which hasn't been updated in a few weeks.  Or maybe we could just call our group Take It To The Man!  But we have to do something, or AB InBev, MillerCoors and the WBDT will be telling us what we can drink, and what we can buy.

My Vow

It's easy to sit here and bitch.  It's harder to act.  So, in that spirit, I have taken this vow:
  1. I will only drink Texas-owned, Texas-brewed beer. (I will grant an exemption to Shiner beer.  They maybe owned by a Mexican national, but the Spoetzl Brewery is a Historic Texas Brewery.)  If I visit another state, I will only drink locally owned, locally brewed beer.
  2. I will ask for Texas-owned, Texas-brewed beer at every restaurant.  Afterwards, I will send a letter to the restaurant explaining why I won't be back if they don't carry it.
  3. I will donate regularly and volunteer my time regularly to TexasBeerFreedom.org, or any other grass roots movement with the same goal.
  4. I will encourage others to do the same.
Who will take the vow with me?

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posted by hiikeeba at 13:16


Blogger the Virtual Kernel Geek said...

There is one inaccurate statement in your well written blog post: there is at least one Texas beer distributed outside of Texas, Southern Star distributes out of state. I have seen their Pine Belt Pale Ale and their Buried Hatchet in San Francisco, California, and in Dayton, Ohio beer retailers.

11:49 AM  
Blogger hiikeeba said...

Don't get me started on Southern Star. It infuriates me that they are in 17 states (I think I read that in a BeerAdvocate Magazine article) but only 5 Texas towns (Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth--along the Interstates, in other words). I have a better chance of buying a Southern Star when I go to NHC than when I go to my local retailer.

Also, Saint Arnold has started distributing to Louisiana. I can find Saint Arnold here, so I don't mind it.

Similarly, I have yet to find Shiner's Ruby Red Bird here in The Great Texas Beer Desert™, but I'm sure I'll be able to try it once I get to New Mexico.

Thanks, Texas beer distributors, for not distributing Texas beer!

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing in Fredericksburg which has always puzzled me is why the guy who owns Fredericksburg Brewing Company (and the Hangar hotel) hasn't ridden ya'lls local Representatives into the ground over HB660. He's in a prime position to benefit, as he already HAS the brewpub AND a place to distribute! So it's not just beer geeks who don't "get it."

8:44 PM  
Blogger hiikeeba said...

Our rep lives in New Braunfels. He doesn't care much about Fredericksburg, IMHO. I've written him several times about this and he's never responded.

9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's not about your state Representative, it's about Estenson (sp?) who has the money to own both a brewpub and a hotel in Fredericksburg... Get HIS money talking to the Representative and I have little doubt the Representative WILL listen. Rick has often said he doesn't understand why his boss isn't all over it.

8:22 AM  
Blogger hiikeeba said...

I suspect that Estenson wouldn't be able to pay as much to the rep as the WBDT of Texas. Besides, our Lege only listens to large Belgian or South African corporations, like AB InBev and MillerCoors. You, me, and Texas brewers are beneath their notice.

8:28 AM  

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