Save The Craft: The Chips Have Fallen & Lines Have Been Drawn

In Beer Politics by Ryan

RYAN: If their is one constant I took away from my time covering state government in Springfield it’s that things rarely play out the way you anticipate they will.  There are  twists and turns and bends in the negotiation process and sometimes the final bill that is produced is not a popular option.  In fact, there are instances were no one really wins.  And that may very end up being the case with SB754, depending on which side you reside on.

Myself, Karl and Andrew started Save The Craft because we wanted you to be in the know and in the loop on what was happening with this legislation in Springfield.  We like beer, just like you do.  We shop at the same beer stores and visit the same bars.  So we thought it was only fair and right for the craft beer community in Illinois to have an active role in shaping the future of craft beer in our state.  Our end goal of this campaign is to protect the future of craft beer in Illinois and to see more local beer on the shelves of beer stores across the state.  We want a brewery in Springfield and a brewpub in southern Illinois that uses local grown goods in the brewing process.

Things took an interesting turn on Wednesday after SB754 passed out of the Senate Revenue Committee that caused us to take a breath and firmly affix ourselves smack dab in the middle.  You see, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild sent out an email blast to its members encouraging them to call their state senator and urge them to vote “NO” on SB754.  This email came one day after I personally talked to Big Muddy Brewing founder Chuck Stuhrenberg, who seemed rather ecstatic about the legislation.  So the organization representing craft brewers and brewpubs in the state opposes the current legislation but the man that epitomizes the heart of this issue backs it.  Kind of puts us in a bit of a pickle, huh?

Instead of telling you what to do, we’re going to lay out the facts and where all sides stand and let you make up your own mind.

  • The Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois, representing distributors across the state, has opposed the legislation from the get-go.  They are willing to allow Agrus Brewery in Chicago and Big Muddy in Murphysboro to continue to self-distribute but no one else.  They balked at the original 60,000 barrel limit for self-distribution and did not want to extend the right to self-distribute to brewpubs.  According to the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, the ABDI supports the current legislation.
  • The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, representing brewers and brewpubs across the state, wrote the original legislation and has been on this like a hawk since the get-go.  They supported the previous 60,000 barrel cap for breweries to gain self-distribution rights and the 50,000 gallon limit for brewpubs to self-distribute.  They oppose the current legislation because they don’t feel the current self-distribution limit of 7,500 barrels is high enough and they don’t like the restriction placed on brewpubs requiring them to have a separate “location” in order to acquire a “Craft Brewer” license and handle their own distro.  This is the specific line the ICBG is referring to; “A person who holds a brew pub license may simultaneously hold a craft brewer license if he or she otherwise qualifies for the craft brewer license and the craft brewer license is for a location separate from the brew pub’s licensed premises.” One source told me that the “location” is open to interpretation.  It is also easily spun.  One side may say it requires a brewpub to construct a new building while another will say all they have to do is get a PO box.  Strap yourself in because that one could make you dizzy.
  • Chuck Stuhrenberg, founder of Big Muddy Brewing in Murphysboro.  Big Muddy is one of two breweries in the state that exercises its right to self-distribute.  While Chuck is a member of the craft brewers guild, according to the organizations website, he has been representing his own interests during negotiations.  I spoke to him on Tuesday morning when SB754 was first amended and he said he was pleased with the compromise.  And it appears he still is.  Big Muddy’s Facebook page is littered with requests directed at fans of the southern Illinois brewery to call their local senator to urge support of SB754.
  • Anhueser-Busch and its army of A-list lobbyists are working to kill this legislation and possibly push to gain self-distribution rights or a majority stake in City Beverage.  The latter  is what brought this issue to the General Assembly in the first place.
  • There’s talk that MillerCoors may be backing anything that AB is against in an attempt to keep their top competitor from gaining more ground in Chicago.  How’s that for a twist?
  • If you’re looking for a point of comparison to the 7,500 barrels currently proposed for self-distribution Half Acre brewed around 2,000 barrels in 2010.  The same goes for Metropolitan BrewingBig Muddy is closer to the 500 barrel mark.
  • If no bill is passed by May 31st and the federal judge does not issue a second stay then both Argus and Big Muddy will lose their self-distribution rights as will every future brewery and brewpub in Illinois.

So, there you have it folks.  Rarely ever do you find a piece of legislation that is perfect.  And from the looks of things this is far from it.  But, if you believe that this compromise legislation is good for craft beer in Illinois then you know what to do; email or call your state senator and tell them to vote “YES” on SB754.  Likewise, if you think breweries and brewpubs in Illinois are getting a raw deal then tell your senator to vote “NO” on SB754.  Whatever decision you reach, make sure its in the best interest of Saving The Craft in Illinois.

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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.


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