Lake Superior, the largest of the great lakes, holds ten percent of the worlds fresh surface water. It is also home to the city of Duluth, Minnesota, where I was at the end of July to attend the Minnesota Brewers Conference and All Points North Festival, hosted by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild.
The conference was the guild’s largest to date and featured speakers from breweries, the distilled spirits and restaurant industries, and the Brewers Association’s (BA) Diversity Ambassador Dr. Jackson-Beckham, and yours truly, the BA federal affairs manager. The Guild’s executive director Lauren McGinty put together an extensive program for the attendees that included tracks for Brewing, Operations, Sales/Marketing, and Owners/Decision Makers.
Legislation Is Always Top of Mind
As they often are, politics and legislation were a topic of interest at this event.
This legislative session, Minnesota brewers had a few different issues they were focusing on, but the one that I heard most about was the “growler cap” issue. In the state, breweries producing more than 20,000 barrels annually are required to halt the sale of growlers out of their taprooms, diminishing business and frustrating consumers.
The Minnesota legislature had two bipartisan bills in the House and Senate this year that would update that language to allow breweries of any size to sell anything from a standard 12 ounce can to a European growler fill from their tasting rooms. That language was included in amendments during the legislative session, but ultimately were not passed.
Engaging with Others Helps Pass Legislation
The Minnesota Guild isn’t alone in dealing with these types of issues.
My presentation, in addition to updates on the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act and other federal priorities, focused on similar legislation like the Texas beer-to-go law (which will allow production breweries in Texas to start selling beer to go on September 1, 2019) and steps that guilds and breweries can take to engage legislators, brewery members, and enthusiasts to help pass legislation.
Steps that Successful Associations and Businesses Follow To Achieve Their Goals
- Identify Goals: Identify what you want to accomplish and what steps you will need to take to accomplish those goals.
- Be Unified: Share the idea and get support from interested parties/employees. It is very rare that 100 percent of breweries will agree with your priorities. The key is to remember is that your association’s strength comes from unity among all the members. A successful guild’s members will support issues that don’t directly affect them because they know a strong/unified guild will be helpful when they are working on issues that do impact them.
- Have A Strong/Consistent Message: Make it easy to support your efforts by having a consistent message for your members and allies to point to. This is especially important if you end up getting consumer allies.
- Find Allies: Identify allies outside of your direct circle, like key legislators who champion your issues, and other associations and businesses who will benefit from you achieving your goal. Consumers and enthusiasts can also be good allies, but make sure that you control the message.
- Be Flexible: “The best laid plans” don’t always work out. Your association can benefit from being open to compromise and negotiating with the groups that may oppose you.
- Be Patient: Change doesn’t happen overnight. It could take years or decades to build up the support you need to accomplish your goals.
Guilds Rely on Member Participation and Unity
It’s important for guilds to have long term plans, but to get those plans into action they need to rely on their membership. Guild board members, committee members, and people who attend events like the Minnesota Brewers Conference help the guilds through their participation. Active breweries help set the agenda, vet legislative and other priorities, encourage buy-in and unity from other brewery members, and help to educate people outside the industry, like elected officials and staff.
Look at how much the landscape has changed for small and independent brewers in the past five, ten, fifteen years. None of that work would have been accomplished without active guilds and brewery members. We have come very far, but there is still more to accomplish. Events like the Minnesota Brewers Conference show that breweries want to be engaged, and I look forward to seeing what they will accomplish!