Shameful, wrong-headed attack is the mark of political amateurs

John Nau III (From UTSA Today website)

A pro-life group has launched a shameful, albeit quixotic, attack on Republican donor and successful beer distributor John Nau because (GASP!) his wife allegedly supported Planned Parenthood in the past.

After 20 years in journalism and 17 covering Texas state politics, this kind of attack STILL sort of amazes me.

Because what this anonymous diatribe (from what appears to be a bogus email “prolifetexas@hushmail.com”) is actually doing with its new, cheap little website aimed at Nau, of Silver Eagle Distributors, is attacking Greg Abbott, their only hope for a pro-life governor this cycle.

Who made THAT call?

And while I’m asking questions, who is this group whose donors can’t be traced? And which can’t put its own name on its email OR the attack website? This doesn’t sound like the typical action of the usual pro-life groups in Texas, who rarely operate in anonymity.

Whoever it is, they’ve gotten all wrapped around the axle about the fact that Abbott has named Nau his campaign treasurer, therefore making him clearly his policy advisor on women’s healthcare because that’s what the money guys do, right? (RIGHT? They fill out the ethics reports and advise candidates on abortion. RIGHT?! What do you mean, NO?!) 

This is really bad, according to this pro-life email, because you know… Greg Abbott HAS ALWAYS BEEN SO WISHY WASHY ABOUT ABORTION.

I mean, what if Nau changes Abbott’s mind and turns him into a big ole abortionist?! IT COULD HAPPEN!

“Why does Greg Abbott have someone who is supporting planned parenthood (sic) as his campaign treasurer?” reads the website.

And then, apparently because they needed to fill white space, they demand to know why U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has Nau as his national finance chairman.

Because, you know. Cornyn HAS ALWAYS BEEN SO WISHY WASHY ABOUT ABORTION. Easily influenced by the far left. A real moderate, that one.

In its attack, the group called Nau “one of the most influential donors with the Associated Republicans of Texas and Texans for Lawsuit Reform” but then says he doesn’t support traditional Republican values.

Here again, I have to ask how a man who has donated boatloads of cash to ART and TLR can be accused of not supporting the GOP? Because perhaps he (or his wife) doesn’t agree on this one issue?

I have to say, if this were primary season, I’d at least be able to give them props on their timing. But Abbott is the nominee, guys. Take out after him, and succeed (OMG right?!), and who do you get? How do you win there?

John Nau has donated to myriad causes over the years and, God forbid, clearly subscribes to the modern-day notion that a man’s wife can support anything she damn well pleases.

This shameful attack on a guy (and wife) who is NOT a politician but who chooses to spend his money affecting the political process – and his time helping candidates that pro-lifers oughta oughta be thanking God for EVERY DAY – is about the most ridiculous political posturing I’ve seen in a very long time.

Let me tell you a little story.

In Oct 2008, the Texas Conservative Review slammed a political activist, Kathy Haigler, for attacking Joan Huffman, now a GOP senator, because she took a donation from Nau, characterized in her attack as a known PP supporter.

Calling the attack a sure sign that the “silly season” in politics had begun, a month before the elections, the TCR – another liberal rag, am I right?! – had this to say:

“What does this have to do with Joan Huffman and her strong pro-life credentials? Absolutely nothing, especially since John Nau has donated to about every key conservative officeholder in the state of Texas, and has even given money to Ms. Haigler’s choice for SD 17.” (EVERY KEY CONSERVATIVE OFFICEHOLDER IN THE STATE OF TEXAS – just making sure you saw that) EVEN HER CANDIDATE.

Huffman won, and as we all know, went on to firmly and categorically support Wendy Davis in her filibuster of the anti-abortion laws last summer.

OH WAIT, NO SHE DIDN’T. Because she’s pro-life. Just like Abbott.

And even John Nau, as powerful and influential and popular as he is, can’t change that. This attack is shameful and cheap, and only shows the weaknesses of his attackers.

Big Bend Brewing celebrates wild success

(from bigbendbrewing.com)

A young brewery out in West Texas is exploding onto the market after less than two years in existence, thanks for a thirst for craft beer in the region and a regulatory environment that clearly supports great brews.

Not to mention, they make a great beer that works well in the desert climes – a key part of the equation.

Big Bend Brewing Co., based just outside Alpine, is getting some major attention lately for its success in the remote West Texas region, where beer is big but crafts are few. With twice daily tours and quadrupled production in its first two years, BBC is a success story that inspires.

Says a recent Texas Monthly article:

“Supply interruptions notwithstanding, the brewery has built a loyal customer base in West Texas, where the beer is on tap in bars as far south as the Mexican border. Big Bend National Park stocks six-packs in its park convenience stores, and more than a hundred bars, restaurants and stores are on the brewery’s waiting list.

Nearly two years after producing its first kegs, Big Bend Brewing Company has quadrupled production.”

A recent article in the Midland Reporter-Telegram touts the brewery’s success and has this to say about its plans for the future:

“In a few years, Big Bend Brewing Co. plans to sell its chilled and canned beers in El Paso, Midland, Odessa, Lubbock, Big Spring and San Angelo, essentially all remaining West Texas markets.”

 We absolutely love to see the success of a great craft beer. It tells us two things: 1) that the regulatory environment is ideal for fast growth of craft beers and 2) that making a great beer and having a good marketing strategy is key to success.
Congratulations BBC!!!

Here’s why craft beers applaud the three-tier system

(By Erika Lambreton/TBIJ)

Because without it, Big Beer would take over. Many, many craft brewers know this. Unwilling to get caught up in the popular, though ineffectual and inaccurate, crafts-good-laws-bad drumbeat currently in vogue with a handful of brewers, guys like Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland understand that the laws protect them – and that loosening them would simply open the door for Big Beer to take over.

We see an excellent treatment of this issue in the Washington Examiner recently:

“The result is the “three-tier system,” in which brewers must sell to distributors rather than to retailers, and distributors must sell to retailers like liquor stores or bars rather than directly to consumers.

“That system helps craft brewers, says Jim Caruso, CEO of Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland, by keeping markets “relatively open” for small producers.

“‘If the laws were such that Budweiser could brew the beer, control all the distribution, and have Budweiser bars,’ says Caruso, ”they would just — on every street — open bars, and only have Budweiser products. I could go there every day or once a week, and they’d never take my beer.’

“Without the three-tier system, Purser says, beer would be sold the way soda is, with supermarkets offering relatively few brand options and Coca-Cola and Pepsi sponsoring restaurants that serve only their drinks.” 

And that’s all I’m sayin.

 

ICYMI: Twin Peaks: In-house brewery could be key to success

Credit: Charlie L. Harper III

We love to see restaurants taking advantages of the new freedom craft beers have thanks to the laws passed last session by the Texas Lege with the support of the craft brew industry, the wholesalers and the retailers.

This report in the National Restaurant News discusses how this restaurant chain, which also owns the Ojos Locos restaurant/bars, believes its new craft beer option will help it capitalize on what it sells the most of – craft beer.  The article describes the chain as “a casual-dining chain, which is known for its all-female waitstaff and 29-degree-Fahrenheit tap beers” (treats for the eyes as well as the gut, in other words) and says this:

“There are very few breweries that can open up and inside of a year reach their max capacity without any selling costs. We don’t have to hire salesmen or brokers or anybody to go out and find us customers, … and we don’t have to incentivize retailers to carry our beer. It will really add to the profitability of our concept, both for our corporate stores and our franchisees in the market.”

The goal is to have the beer in all 21 of its properties across Texas – we’ll be waiting!

Study: The three-tier system helps good craft beer thrive

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A fascinating and insightful analysis recently released by The Boston Consulting Group unequivocally states what many of us have argued for a long time: Good craft beer survives on its merits, and thrives in an open-distribution system such as the three-tier system that exists in Texas.

It is a great explainer for those who can’t see past the noise in the very passionate but highly political (and not, in my opinion, very well informed) debate over the regulatory system and the craft brews.

A big THANKS to BCG for doing the study.

From the analysis titled “For Small and Large Brewers, the U.S. Market Is Open:”

“The economics of the U.S. beer business conveys significant advantages to those with scale. But, as it turns out, subscale small brewers are also (unexpectedly) the beneficiaries of the advantages afforded major domestic brewers. The reason: they can leverage an effective route-to-market distribution system that was built by distributors and larger brewers over the decades. This open distribution system enables small brewers to avoid significant, if not prohibitive, costs to entry, while also gaining deep access to large and small retailers.”

 ”Small brewers seeking to break into the market must recognize that they ultimately depend on consumer loyalty and that the distribution costs are not the impediment they seem to think they are,” states the intro. In fact, thanks to piggybacking on independent distribution networks supported largely by the economics of large domestic and import brewers, small brewers avoid much higher distribution costs. And regulators need not worry about the barriers to entry for market newcomers given their recent success and ability to leverage the industry distribution system.”

The article makes three major points:

  • Demand for craft beers, and the rise of small brewers, is fundamentally driven by consumer preference.
  • The open distribution system for beer in the U.S. has helped small brewers gain access to the market because they do not have to build their own networks.
  • Given the open distribution system, both small and large brewers must compete for consumers in order to survive.

Our view is that success in the beer industry still rests fundamentally with consumer demand. Further, the current open structure of the three-tier distribution system has been a fundamental enabler in the craft beer segment,” the article reads.

For anyone who is truly interested in why we should fight hard for the open-distribution system if we want to fight for craft brews, take a minute to get past the hype and really educate yourself – this is a great article for those who wonder why all the fuss.

Chron: For brewer, emphasizing tradition, community pays

starnolds

We’re kind of in the summer doldrums, not much going on with people on vacation and such, but one of my favorite beer writers, Ronnie Crocker, hit another homer with this great profile of St. Arnold’s and their pioneering spirit when it comes to making great beer and changing the way Americans drink it.

From the piece:

“Wagner and Stephen Rawlings, a 28-year-old Saint Arnold brewer, were on Day 4 of a weeklong buying trip through two of the most storied regions in the world of brewing — the Bavarian Hallertau of Germany and now the Saaz in the Czech Republic, not far from the birthplace of pilsner beer.

Hallertau and Saaz hops have been prized by generations of brewers across the globe as well. The Japanese and, increasingly, the Chinese have become major customers.

But it’s American craft brewers like Wagner, a relatively new breed in beer’s millennia-long history, who have made the biggest mark on the European hops business, elevating hops to their most exalted status while using them in creative new ways and radically altering the perception of American beer around the world.

Wagner, now celebrating 20 years in business, is among the veterans in that transformation.

Just 185 U.S. craft breweries and brewpubs in business today opened before Saint Arnold did, records show. The most recent Brewers Association count shows there now are 2,866 in operation, which means the Houston brewery has been around longer than 93 percent of its contemporaries. It survived the boom times of the 1990s and the shakeout that followed.”

Crocker’s piece takes us to Bavaria and beyond – click here to settle in for a great read! 

 

 

Congrats to East Texas cities for voting in beer and wine sales

Bumper sticker by Two Brothers brewing in Aurora, IL.

Some exciting politics happening in East Texas over the weekend, with four cities voting down antiquated dry laws and allowing beer and wine sales.

Soon the folks in Van, Grand Saline, Gilmer and Quitman will be able to not only enjoy a tasty beverage without driving far and wide to get it, but they’ll also be able to enjoy the economic development benefits that elude dry counties, such as increased retail and restaurant action.

Canton rejected both of the ballot measures, the same in all five cities, that would have allowed sales of beer and wine for off-site consumption and the sale of mixed drinks by restaurants, respectively.

From the Tyler Telegraph:

It’s very clear that all over East Texas, voters are overwhelmingly approving alcohol sales, and we are really excited about it,” said John Hatch, with Texas Petition Strategies, the company that assisted in getting the propositions on the ballots.

“These elections rarely fail on facts,” he said. “If they fail, they fail on rumor, innuendo and misinformation.”

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the meaning of craft beer these days? Thanks in part to Big Beer, who knows?

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I like the treatment of this issue by the brilliant people over at Texas Public Radio, who ask the question that will get any non-hipster kicked off Rainey Street in Austin in a matter of seconds: What exactly IS craft beer anymore?

We know what craft beer used to be. We think we know it when we taste it. And of course, as I’m sure my detractors will point out in the comments, everybody who’s anybody knows what craft beer is, duh.

Except really? TPR makes two excellent points with the following comment in their story about the issue:

Small breweries are transforming into big ones, while big breweries are masquerading as small brands, selling “crafty” knockoff beers in an attempt to lure customers from the craft beer market.

Part of the confusion over what craft beer means has come from within the craft beer community itself. The Brewers Association, a Colorado industry group that serves as a voice for craft brewers, has changed its definition multiple times.

Good discussion points here, but I’d like to highlight here the widely recognized tendency of Big Beer to try and cash in on the craft brew population by thoroughly confusing the people who don’t have time to study the fine print – well-meaning craft beer drinkers who may get fooled by brands like Shock Top used to do before everybody figured out they were AB.

Anyway. Read and learn. Good stuff.

 

Jester King wins prestigious small-brew industry activism award

IMG_8040

Congratulations to Texas’ own Jester King Brewery, which this week received the F. X. Matt Defense of the Small Brewing Industry award at the huge Brewers Association’s Craft Brewers Conference happening right now in Denver.

Just about 9,000 people are attending this conference, and the award to Jester King is the burgeoning industry’s nod to the brewery’s “efforts to overturn antiquated beer laws and create a level playing field for small brewers in Texas,” according to a release posted on the brewery’s website.

The award is named for the late F. X. Matt, president of the F.X. Matt Brewing Co. in Utica, N.Y., from 1980-1989, “a tireless and outspoken champion for the small brewing industry,” reads the BA website.

“Nominations are open to individuals who have given aid and support to the causes of small, independent brewers, and by doing so have supported the Brewers Association’s goal of vigorously defending the craft beer industry.”

Below is the transcript of the acceptance speech given by Ron Extract of Jester King:

“Thank you very much to everyone at the Brewers Association. The award came as a complete surprise, and we’re extremely humbled and honored to accept it. We’d like to thank our attorneys who represented us in our lawsuit against the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission — Jim Houchins of The Law Office of James O. Houchins and Pete Kennedy of Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody, P.C., as well as our co-plaintiffs Authentic Beverages Co. and Zax Restaurant and Bar. It was Jim Houchin’s idea to challenge some of the unjust, antiquated laws under which we were being forced to operate. He and Pete Kennedy not only helped to change these laws, they also paved the way for further legislative change that would follow, as a result of the continued efforts of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild and its leaders, to whom we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude.

“As hard as many of us are working to modernize our legal and regulatory structures, there are also those, often with a good deal more resources at their disposal, who are working equally hard to hold us back.

“Last year, Texas breweries gained the right to sell beer directly to consumers and Texas brewpubs gained the right to distribute off site. But, thanks to the efforts of a powerful distributors lobby, we also lost the legal right to receive compensation for one of our most valuable business assets, our territorial distribution rights — an asset that distributors routinely and legally sell to one another for millions of dollars. Distributors often speak about investing in our brands, yet the distributors who were behind this effort seem to feel that the investments that brewers make in their own brands are literally worthless. What’s perhaps even more astounding, though, is that even as these distributors lobby against our interests, other craft brewers continue to sign on with them.

“For those of you who have distributors that you like, and whom you feel genuinely support your interests — and there are definitely some very good ones out there — please encourage them to work together with us to bring about the change we need, and to speak out against those that would hold us back. If you have distributors who do not support our collective interests, or even actively lobby against them, call them out, and hold them accountable. Remind them that the money from selling your brand is helping to pay their bills. And when seeking new distribution, please consider where your prospective distributors stand, what sort of lobbying efforts the money from your brand would support, and what recourse you would have, should that relationship ever go awry.”

Congratulations to Jester King!

Here are the winners at past conferences:

2014 – Jester King Brewery, Austin, Texas
2013 – David Katleski, New York State Craft Brewers Guild/Empire Brewing Co
2012 – Tom McCormick, California Craft Brewers Association
2011 – Dan Kopman, St. Louis Brewery/Schlafly Beer
2010 – Steve Hindy, The Brooklyn Brewery
2009 – Eric Wallace, Left Hand Brewing Company
2008 – John Carlson, Colorado Brewers Guild
2007 – George Hancock, Pyramid Brewing Co.
2006 – Daniel Bradford, past BAA President
2005 – Marc Sorini, McDermott Will & Emery
2004 – Marc Sorini, BAA Counsel
2003 – Jim Parker, Oregon Brewers Guild
2002 – Mike McKinney, Texas Wholesalers Association
2001 – David Edgar, Past Institute for Brewing Studies Director
2000 – Fred Bowman, Portland Brewing Co.

Flip-flop by Texas craft brewers ignores one thing: They’re fighting the laws that help them

A modern brewery

Texas has one of the strongest craft brew environments in the country, made even stronger by a package of laws that crafts and distributors hammered out and agreed to during the last legislative session.

Less than a year after those laws took effect, however, the legislative director of the state’s craft brewers group is backpedaling on one of the laws his group originally supported in order to get their wish list passed – and the law’s House sponsor, Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, is not AT ALL pleased about the switch.

“I’m very disappointed that he’s bringing this up, and I’m not going to go into the next session with a very good taste in my mouth with him starting this crap this early,” Geren, a restaurant owner and House chairman, told the Texas Beverage Industry Journal on Friday. “It is the law, and I’m going to fight to keep it the law.”

The law in question codified a ban on brewers being able to sell their distribution rights – a practice that forces distributors to pay the brewers to distribute their brands, something that was already illegal anyway.

The law was part of a historic overhaul of the craft brew laws, a package touted as some of the best pro-craft legislation in the country, allowing them to self distribute and serve their own beer on site and a host of other things that craft brewers have been wanting for years but were stymied on by Big Beer, which didn’t want the competition it would create. In short, it was a huge win.

The problem now is that the craft brewers are apparently, as Geren says, “changing spouses” and backing off on their support – now that the distributors helped get them the hookup during the session (convenient!).

On Thursday, Scott Metzger, who sits on the board of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, told members of the House Economic Development committee that while some of the laws passed during the session were good, the franchise law that was part of the package is bad for them – even though they signed off on it last year.

His complaints are that craft beers want to charge distributors for the privilege of promoting their beers, and they want to be able to fire distributors at will and sell their brands’ distributing rights to another distributor for no reason.  The franchise law prevents both of these things, which are already prohibited anyway.

Not only is he wrong that the law is bad for craft beers – it’s actually very good for craft beers because it empowers distributors to invest in the success of their brand – but he’s also doing an about-face on his position during negotiations that everyone thought were being done in good faith.

This type of thing does not sit well with anyone who has ever lost blood, sweat and tears during political negotiations, particularly when they’ve gone out on a limb, like the distributors have, in order to pass a package everyone was happy with.

“Their group and their lobbyist all agreed to this,” Geren said. “It was a package deal and everybody signed off on it. It’s awfully fast to be changing spouses here, I think.”

Besides being bad politics, it’s just a bad position to take, period. The franchise law helps the craft brewers by protecting the investment a distributor makes in their brands when they spend their money and infrastructure promoting and selling the brewers’ beer for them, Geren said.

For example, Geren says, Metzger, who owns Freetail Brewing Co. in San Antonio, chooses to avail himself of that system even though he is free to avoid the issue altogether s and distribute his products himself, which even Budweiser and Miller and the other Big Beer guys can’t do. Craft brewers choose the system because it works for them, the way it is.

“He can distribute the beer himself, legally, today, but instead he chooses to use the system,” Geren said. “If he chooses to use the system through the bigger guys (distributors), they have an infrastructure already in place. They spend a lot of money on advertising, on the trucks, on labor, and he’s taking advantage of that when he uses the system. And if he wants to be paid for that, he’s nuts.”

After all, Budweiser doesn’t charge La Mantia distributors every time it rolls out a new beer – what would be the incentive for La Mantia at that point?

Metzger also complained about part of the law that makes it difficult to break contracts with distributors or fire them at will, saying it restricts the craft brewers’ ability to make money off a valuable brand. Big beers can’t just dump a distributor for no good reason, but craft beers want to.

But ask yourself this: Why on EARTH would a distributor even bother to pour its infrastructure into building up a brand, getting it into bars and stores (they’re the ones who send the beer girls to the sports bars, for example, to introduce patrons to their beers), only to have it taken away for no reason and sold to another distributor to enjoy the fruits of the first company’s hard work and valuable resources?

No thanks.

“You don’t want to build up this guy’s market and then have him jerk it out from under you and give it to the competition,” Geren said.

Distributors invest millions of dollars in craft brands and undertake long term commitments in warehouse build-outs, marketing, refrigeration systems, rolling  stock, and employment commitments. Simply put, franchise laws prohibit a brewer from unfairly taking that investment.

The law allows a distributor to invest heavily in new and emerging  brands without risk that the investment will be unfairly taken from them without compensation.

This only HELPS the craft brewers and also shuts down opportunities to game the system unethically – but Metzger and the others don’t seem to realize that.

Geren warned that the guild did very well last session and should be careful about opening up the can of worms again so soon.

“They’ve got a good thing going, and I hope they don’t try to screw it up,” Geren said. “The one thing I’ve learned in my 13 years down there is that you can pass laws that cut either way.”

Pretty clear warning shot across the bow, isn’t it?

I understand that craft brews want to keep growing, and the thing is, the package of laws that was passed in 2013 help them enormously because it bolsters them AND it protects the distribution network that makes the Texas industry one of the strongest in the country.

Putting the screws to that network will only hurt the craft brews, and the sooner they realize that, the better off they’ll be.

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