Midwest Regional Guild Meeting

Support and development of State Brewers Guilds remains a major focus of the Brewers Association. The addition of Acacia Coast, the trade group’s State Brewers Association Coordinator has helped the BA become more of a resource for existing and fledgling guilds. Acacia has been busy crisscrossing the country attending state brewers association meetings with many of them centered on initial guild formation.

Recently, Acacia provided an update on her trip to Wisconsin for the Midwest regional guild meeting.

Each August in Madison, Wisconsin, the local home brew club, Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild, sponsors one of the great festivals of the nation: Great Taste of the Midwest. Eleven states are invited to participate, and this year 122 breweries came together to celebrate for the 27th year. 

In 2012 the Wisconsin and Minnesota craft brewers associations determined that with so many small brewers in once place, this would be a great time to host a regional guild meeting. As a result, last year, four state brewers guilds met adjacent to the Great Taste at the first Midwest Regional Guild Gathering. This year, on the Friday prior to the event, seven state craft brewers guilds came together to share ideas, brainstorm over common challenges, network, and develop their associations. 

The seven state guilds represented were:

Hopefully, next year the following Midwest states will also join the meeting: 

Also joining the meeting was special guest, Art DeCelle of McDermott Will & Emery LLP, Brewers Association counsel in Washington D.C. He was able to bring forward insightful historical perspectives as well as options from a legal standpoint that the group would never have otherwise considered. 

I provided a brief update on projects, resources, and upcoming initiatives the Brewers Association is working on to support state guilds. All were grateful to hear of the forthcoming resources from of our recent hires, BA Staff Economist, Dr. Bart Watson, and legal intern, Jessica Hunter.

Each guild leader introduced their guild and provided updates on their association’s current initiatives and challenges. Similar to last year, there were many common threads among the state guild updates. It was a huge relief to the guild leaders from every state to hear that their neighbors are facing similar challenges. There were a handful of ‘ah-ha’ moments for ways to move new initiatives forward. A major theme was the struggle to keep with all the newly opened breweries. On average, there is at least one brewery that opens up each day of the year. 

Guilds are also working to find common ground among brewpubs and production breweries, and the different business objectives each group wants the guild to focus resources. Most of the Midwest guilds host successful fundraising events, but coming to consensus on how to spend the money is often a topic of great dissent among guild boards and their members.

The Executive Director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild (MNCBG), Clint Roberts, said their guild has been legislatively agnostic until recently. The association is now finding consensus and discussing access to market legislation, which they did not previously considered in the group. The MNCBG also had a super successful legislative tasting at the 2013 Craft Brewers Conference in Washington D.C. This is certainly something guilds could potentially replicate if they plan ahead for SAVOR 2014. The MNCBG State Fair craft beer exhibition was also a huge success, with 21 breweries pouring flights of beers, and offering industry presentations. This year will be the second year and the state fair has doubled their allotted space. Unfortunately, brewpubs can’t sell beer at the fair – something the guild may consider for future legislation. 

Eric Briggeman of Rochester Mills Brewing Co and President of the Michigan Brewers Guild (MBG) shared how the MBG started as a marketing guild, when brewpubs and breweries couldn’t get along…but eventually couldn’t avoid legislative work any more. Eric extended an invitation to the nation’s guild leaders for their superb Winter Technical Conference, held in conjunction with the MBAA-District Michigan. He generously offering complimentary registration to guild leaders, and Brewers Association staff will be attending as well. 

In Indiana, the state passed previous legislation, doubling the tasting room cap from 30k bbls to 60k bbls, and raised the small brewer tax cap from 30k to 60k. Clay Robinson, current president of the Brewers of Indiana Guild (BIG) gave an update on the association and the upcoming initiatives they have in progress. Blaine Stucky of Mad Anthony Brewing Co and board member of BIG counted over 60 breweries in Indiana now, remarking “There’s a lot of diversity in the industry, but common growth of local businesses keeps us all tied together.” 

Of course, being hosted by Wisconsin, the meeting had a handful of Wisconsin Brewers Guild (WBG) board members. Jeff Hamilton of Sprecher Brewing Co, and past WBG president, spoke about how the WBG would like to hold more successful fundraisers, and their intention to ramp up WBG technical seminars in 2014. The WBG last year offered “Friends of Wisconsin Brewers” legislator awards. The WBG presents a plaque to Representatives to honor and acknowledge members of the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly who have worked to support the business of craft brewers in Wisconsin. It has become a super desirable piece of ‘office art’ for these legislators, and immensely popular in the capitol.

The 2013 Regional Guild Gathering was a fruitful discussion, topped off by an open forum dialogue that included big discussions on franchise laws, self-distribution, other state legalities, membership, festivals, guilds paying breweries for beer fest beer, 3rd party promoters, and many other topics that commonly challenge small brewer associations. The group as a whole was able to gather insights and resources from Art, neighboring guild leaders, and from the Brewers Association.

As Jeff Hamilton says, “The exchange of experiences and ideas with other state guilds is a very valuable tool to guide the development of your state guild.” I want to encourage other guilds nationwide to meet with their regional guild neighbors, as we’ve found it to be immensely beneficial in the Midwest. Contact me for more information on how we can organize this opportunity in your area.

Photo © John Murden via Flickr CC