Ohio, Washington, Oregon, and Vermont Guild Update

With the start of winter, I had the opportunity to attend eight guild meetings in six week. It was a whirlwind tour crisscrossing about the country in planes, trains, automobiles… and a ferry! I’m pleased to report much progress was made in several states along the way.

I started November with a visit to Cleveland for the Ohio Craft Brewers Association (OCBA) meeting. The annual meeting followed a successful Cleveland Craft Beer Week that garnered much media attention throughout the state. Ohio is ranked fourth for 2012 craft production in the U.S., with 981,000 craft barrels (behind California, Pennsylvania and Colorado, but ahead of Oregon). Northeastern Ohio alone has 37 craft breweries and the number of craft brewery licenses in Ohio is now over 100. As such, the OCBA recently hired their very first full time guild director, Mary Martineau, to keep up with all the brewery businesses and carry out the OCBA goals.

The strategic planning committee met in the morning to continue developing the OCBA five-year plan and later that afternoon the all-member meeting was held at Great Lakes Brewing Co. The OCBA has plans to raise funds through an increase in membership dues and events, starting with the upcoming ever-popular Winter Warmer in March. Additional discussions included an Ohio craft brewery magazine, receiving support back to the OCBA from event promoters, furthering the OCBA events strategy, developing a marketing plan, legislative and licensing technicalities, brand rights, officer elections, and amending the OCBA bylaws.

The OCBA is going to survey membership to complete the final strategic planning process. Recently, the Montana Brewers Association and California Craft Brewers Association each contracted a firm to lead their board in a strategic planning meeting. These guilds found immense value in the process, and hopefully other guilds will follow this lead.

In mid-November, I journeyed northwest to Washington, where I participated on a 703-mile road trip with the two allied Washington state brewers associations: the Washington Brewers Guild (legislatively focused), and the Washington Beer Commission (promotional). Washington is a unique state with two divergent (and collaborating) state associations, per a former mandate by Washington state legislators. Brewery membership in the commission is mandatory by state law, as the organization is an arm of the Washington Department of Agriculture. Membership with the Washington Brewers Guild is optional, however, so it’s been an educational process clarifying the difference to the state’s brewing community, and emphasizing the importance of participation in the state legislative process.

Seattle hosted the first meeting on a Tuesday night at Elysian Fields. The gathering was joined by a representative from the Washington State Liquor Control Board, who presented clarifications regarding many beer laws. Wednesday morning five guild officers, the commission director and I ferried out to Port Townsend Brewing Co. for a morning gathering. For the third meeting, we all drove four hours south to Battleground for an evening meeting at the Laurelwood Pub. On Thursday we headed four hours east to the Tri-Cities area for a meeting at Ice Harbor Brewing in Kennewick. All meetings had superb attendance, it was encouraging to garner such strong brewery member support. We had dinner in Yakima that night on our way home to Seattle, and the whole town smelled of heavenly fresh hops.

On the road, we had plenty of time for much guild business discussion and over the four days accomplished many goals for both the guild and the commission: build membership, deliver updates, provide educational resources, determine what legislative issues breweries feel need attention, and develop further brewery participation within the two associations. The hire of a guild executive director is forthcoming and those goals will certainly advance once the guild has paid staff to put in the time. It was a super successful, very valuable road trip, and a great concept worthy of replication in other states.

I kicked off December with a trip to Portland for the Oregon Brewers Guild’s (OBG) annual meeting. OBG executive director, Brian Butenschoen organized a half-day meeting, which included guild business, educational seminars by industry experts, and a reception dinner. The guild puts on numerous renowned events throughout the year, and had plenty of legislation to navigate as well. Thankfully, Oregon’s elected officials are champions of their local brewery businesses, and most are quite educated about the industry. Detrimental legislation introduced in Oregon is often put to rest after a few phone calls and letters from constituent brewers.

Less than 24 hours after landing back home to Los Angeles from Portland, I took off once again for Burlington, Vermont. Here I met with Tom McCormick, award-winning director of the California Craft Brewers Association, for a Vermont Brewers Association (VBA) meeting. We teamed up to present for the meeting with half of the VBA board. We settled some basic existential issues surrounding membership and VBA goals then began setting the framework for the VBA’s strategic planning process. The VBA’s 22 year-old festival has been the major bread winner for the association, but where to designate those funds and potential consideration for additional events, were all part of the discussion. The VBA board also promised to meet quarterly, instead of just once per year, which will significantly increase their progress.

This wraps up my guild travels for 2013, which brought me to 32 guild meetings, over 53,000 miles in the air, into 107 breweries, and through 16 different states. Each and every day it’s an immense honor to work with all the guild leaders, they are the true visionaries of our industry. Big thanks for supporting your guild, your generous hospitality during my visits, and the delicious beer provided along my journey to build a nation of robust small state brewers associations. Happiest holidays to you and your families, at home and at the brewery, and look forward to seeing you next year on my beery merry travels.

Find your state guild contact here!