CBC 2014: How Brewers Can Affect Legislative Change

In late January, New Belgium created an entirely new position at its headquarters in Fort Collins, Colorado: Governmental Affairs Representative.

Assuming the role, which began as a way to help the brewery navigate the legislative labyrinths that dictate how alcohol is regulated in its home state of Colorado, was Andrew Lemley, who said at the time that his main goal was to ensure that “brewers’ voices are being heard” by lawmakers and regulators.

Rep. Peter Defazio (D-OR), in speaking with Brewbound shortly thereafter with regards to his role as co-chair of the House Small Brewers Caucus, said it would be a “great help to us and a great help to the cause” if more brewers could devote resources to creating similar positions.

“It sounds like a great retirement job for me, so I want to encourage that a lot,” he added.

Jokes aside, the fact is that many small brewers don’t have the time or the resources to hire a full-time employee whose job it is to make sure that craft’s voice is being heard by state legislators.

Of course that doesn’t mean small brewers must remain in silent adherence of the status quo. During a panel discussion at last week’s Craft Brewers Conference in Denver, Colo., John Carlson, the executive director of the Colorado Brewers Guild, discussed how more small craft beer companies could go about affecting regulatory change.

According to Carlson, it is imperative that brewers not only understand the laws that govern the beer landscape, but that they develop relationships with lobbyists, wholesalers, and other stakeholders and understand the history of brewing to provide context, and convey how much innovation is inherent in the industry.

“If your mission is advocacy, find out who your stakeholder group is, who your beer family group is,” he said, adding that industries beyond beer — such as vintners, distillers, their wholesalers and more — are also worth knowing. “If you want to be active and effective in your state legislature, you really have to know who your stakeholder group is and ideally you’re communicating with them.”

In these communications, which he repeatedly emphasized should be active and ongoing, brewers should be “real visceral about what we do.”

“We don’t use the C-word,” he said. “We don’t call our consumers ‘consumers.’ We call them beer lovers. We don’t refer to our product as ‘the liquid’ or whatever, it’s ales, lagers, stouts, porters. We’re men and women working hard — our employees aren’t co-workers, they’re Coloradans. Our manufacturing facilities are breweries.”

Though that level of specificity may sound arduous, little gestures like that go a long way in communicating your story to lawmakers and stakeholders, he said.

“Our members always tease me, but we’re trying to create a mindset, a brand,” he said.

Carlson maintains that this level of detail helps to tell the story of brewing in a particular state, but it’s just the first chapter. Carlson said that, when dealing with legislators, to be equipped with the knowledge of how many licensed craft breweries are in your state. Know how many brewpubs and manufacturing breweries exist in your state, and how many people are employed, he said.

Furthermore, craft brewers should also be able to tell the national story of craft beer, relay total brewery count figures and be able to put the state of today’s industry into historical context.

For instance, the economic impact craft beer has had on the national economy is impressive when broken down state by state, but the number is almost unfathomable when compared with the fact that in 1975, there was only one ‘craft brewery’ in the entire U.S., he said.

Nonetheless, industries don’t just grow out of nowhere. He said to remind lawmakers that they grow from entrepreneurship and innovation and open-mindedness in legislation is key in order for that to happen. That, Carlson said, must be communicated to lawmakers if they are to write legislation that fosters continued growth.

“I think it’s really important to convey to state legislators, and also your congressional delegation in D.C., the amount of innovation that you folks are involved with, both on the production side, whether it be a brewpub or manufacturing brewery, but also on the economic multiplier effect,” said Carlson. “We’ve got all this kind of innovation going on, and now we’ve got craft maltsters, and craft hop growers, and mobile canning lines, and all kinds of different things spouting off our brewery activity, and its really important that the policymakers know about this stuff.”

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