A Changing of the Guard at the Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois

In Beer News by Ryan

Bill Olson will step down as president of the Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois at the close of the year ending a nearly 30 year run at arguably one of the most powerful lobbies in the state.

abdiOlson started at the ABDI in 1985, serving as Chief Staff Officer. He rose to the rank of President in 2006. Bob Myers, the ABDI’s current VP of Government Relations, will succeed Olson. Myers began working at the ABDI in 1993.

“I have had a very rewarding career,” said Olson, in a press release. “I have worked in an area where one can conceive the need for legislation, help create a bill for introduction, nurse it through the legislative process, and see it enacted into law. That has been a very fulfilling experience. “

Shortly after announcing his retirement, Olson was awarded the National Beer Wholesaler’s Association’s Life Service Award at the group’s annual convention in Las Vegas. In doling out the honor NBWA CEO Craig Purser called Olson a “champion” for Illinois distributors.

Perhaps you don’t agree with the ABDI’s firm stance on the three-tier system and production caps regarding self-distribution. Perhaps you’re not a fan of Olson in general. Regardless of how those in the craft beer community feel about him or the organization, it’s an undeniable fact that he worked his tail off for his members.

After all, that’s what you’d expect out of the head of a wholesaler lobby — right?

Frankly, I couldn’t think of any other organization that could rally the political clout to seemingly bring Anheuser-Busch to its knees and give up its ownership interest in distributor City Beverage less than a year after the brewing giant fought tooth and nail and spent millions of dollars to maintain a mere minority stake in the chain of wholesalers.

I’ve had many a conversation with Bill. Some on the record and some off the record. He’s always talked passionately about the distribution industry, particularly when it came to wholesalers remaining independent — free to carry more than what is offered by the logo on their trucks. And he’s always “on.” Even a candid chat about self-distribution would elicit the response that, “alcohol is not lemonade,” and its need for regulation.

As for his successor, here’s what you need to know:

Bob Myers, who will take over for Olson on January 1st, has been on the forefront of some of the biggest legislation impacting craft brewers and homebrewers over the last few legislative sessions. He was the lead negotiator, on behalf of the ABDI, on the homebrew and homebrew shop bill that was passed in the spring and was signed in to law this summer.  That bill, by the way, passed both chambers unanimously which — like it or not — is a testament to ABDI’s traction within the legislature as the organization ran point on moving the bill through the statehouse.

Bob also enjoys craft beer every now and again. He posted photos of Big Muddy’s beers, paired with a cigar, to Facebook as a way to celebrate the passage of SB 754 in 2011. The southern Illinois brewery was, by our estimation, the poster child for the self-distribution debate. And last year I twisted his arm just enough to try Dark Horse’s Special Reserve Black Ale (he had two).

Much like Pete Crowley and Justin Maynard at the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild will continue to push for licensing changes, increased production caps for craft brewers and more favorable rules on retail sales and off-premise consumption, the ABDI under Myers’ leadership (and the association’s deep pockets) will continue to protect the interest of their distributors in the state.

Moving forward it will be up to those three, and the other beverage industry lobbies, to find some further middle-ground under the statehouse dome to keep pace with the ever-changing craft beer industry.

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About the Author

Ryan

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Equal parts beer nerd and policy geek, Ryan is now the curator of the Guys Drinking Beer cellar. The skills he once used to dig through the annals of state government as a political reporter are now put to use offering unique takes on barrel-aged stouts, years-old barleywines and 10 + year verticals.