Idaho Brewers Convene at State Guild Meeting in Idaho Falls

Two years ago, I met with Idaho brewing community in Idaho Falls to rally the state and support their formal organization. Fast forward to 2014, Idaho Brewers United (IBU) is now formally official. Though it took the IRS a full year, IBU has finally received word back their 501(c)6 status has been approved. Sheila Francis, president of IBU and co-owner of Payette Brewing Company, expertly navigated the association through the initial organizational hurdles. IBU now currently stands as one of the most active and effective fledgling guilds in the nation.

This June, I returned once again to Idaho Falls for the IBU annual meeting. The meeting was held adjacent to the 20th annual NABA Mountain Brewers Beer Fest, when 80+ breweries from Idaho and 13 other states descend upon Idaho Falls to pour beer for 6,500 enthusiasts at the town’s biggest beer event of the year.

Idaho Brewers United

A local news outlet recently published an article summing up Idaho’s “brewery boom”: the state’s 43,073 bbls of craft beer production doubled 2011 numbers, and “the number of Idaho craft breweries jumped from 24 to 34–ranking the Gem State ninth in the country per capita.” Citing the new BA statistics page, the article highlights the 2012 total economic contribution of Idaho craft at a robust $173 million, with breweries employing 2,258 people that year.

The IBU Annual Meeting was divided into two sessions. The first was open to all industry members, including IBU allied members, suppliers, homebrewers and others. The second was voting members only. Sheila covered most everything in the open session, with finances, nominations and legislative issues left to be addressed with voting brewery membership.

Sheila gave a recap of her experience at the May 2014 BA Capitol Hill Climb. Commonly expressed by many hill climbers this year, Sheila had quite the positive reception at her meetings in all four Idaho representatives’ offices. It is encouraging and refreshing that policy makers are really starting to understand the impact craft breweries have on their local communities!

Sheila, based out of Idaho’s capitol, offered assistance to brewers with arranging brewery tours for policy makers or coordinating meetings with representatives if brewers come to Boise for a visit. Affiliate member, Kelly Olson from the Idaho Barley Commission spoke briefly. “Looks like a good year for barley, but we need rain,” she says. She’s also written letters on behalf of the Small BREW Act, recognizing the benefit recalibrating brewer excise tax rates would bring towards Idaho’s brewers.

Sheila then launched into updates, outlining the FET bills, the new TTB formula guidelines and explaining the intricacies of the multiple bills impacting beer in Idaho’s 2014 legislative session. Idaho Brewers United successfully introduced legislation to allow for sampling in establishments without a “by the glass” license and also allows greater freedom for on-premise sampling. This bill cleared through the committees with very little resistance and was signed by the Governor for an effective date of July 1.

IBU now has a unique opportunity to develop growler regulations, as there are no formal guidelines in state statutes yet. IBU is working with Alcohol Beverage Control and other industry stakeholders (retailers, wholesalers, etc.) to create growler language for the immediate term and working towards a positive long term solution of formal rules as well. These will include formulating minimum and maximum sizes, labeling and sealing requirements for the containers.

Other upcoming IBU initiatives include the development of new committees–festival, legislative, membership and others. IBU is sending out wooden member plaques to hang in breweries so they can proudly identify themselves as IBU members. Sheila also has a goal to send out a newsletter regularly to keep members informed, incorporating answers to frequently asked questions so everyone can keep up with ABC regulation and issues out in the market. The voting members discussed a number of regulatory issues for addressing in 2015 and beyond. Priorities will be set based on the brewery member input. Fundraising is on every association’s docket. IBU is currently working on a fall festival, Brew at the Zoo, to be held August 30th, 5-9pm at Zoo Boise. They have a second IBU event in Northern Idaho under consideration, as well as other fundraising ideas to help subsidize the association. Sheila, not one to mince words, declares “Festival income would be really rad.”

Sockeye Brewery held the first ever “Brew O’lympics” where ten local breweries teamed up in some friendly competitions to raise funds for Idaho Brewers United during American Craft Beer Week. Festival logistics, beer donations and special permitting brings about the usual confusing discussion. What event can a brewery donate to or not? What type of license and special permit is needed to donate beer to a non-profit vs for-profit event? Shelia clarified some of the perplexing regulations.

IBU is also considering developing an Enthusiast membership tier, to supplement their low voting member dues. This is such a resource-intensive project, however, that with solely a volunteer board running the association, I urged them to really take the time to introduce this consciously. A few guilds have experienced backlash from consumers with this tier’s membership challenges.

IBU has a strong active board, sincere industry camaraderie, thirsty residents and a mature thriving beer culture. With the strong partnerships IBU has formed with key regulatory agencies and allied industry members, they have encompassed the perfect formula for successfully representing a unified Idaho craft beer community.

Acacia began her career with the Center for Creative Leadership, a world-renowned non-profit executive leadership and research organization. Currently, Acacia works with the BA's government affairs team as the state brewers associations coordinator, traveling the nation in support of America’s craft brewers guilds.

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