laws

Drinking Laws That Make You Go Hmmm?

Laws governing alcohol have always varied state by state with some more restrictive than others. Whether they are blue laws prohibiting sales of alcohol on Sundays and in some cases across whole dry counties, or less strict laws where the sale of hard alcohol is restricted to state-run liquor stores, states love to legislated the hooch.

Recently, a bill passed the Texas House of Representatives and is on its way to the state senate that would require breweries that make more than 225,000 barrels of beer a year to buy back their own beer from distributors, to serve in their tap rooms. Who would be pushing for this bill? Distributors and wholesalers, of course. While this bill defies common sense, they seemed to have convinced enough reps to vote in their favor. The only thing this bill would do would be to send more money to the wholesalers, cutting into the already narrow margins that most craft breweries face. While this only affects larger breweries (for scale, Stone produced about 325,000, in 2015, according to Wikipedia) at this point, the bill is still damaging to the craft beer community and would ultimately mean an increased cost in beer for consumers.

We’ll be keeping our eye on how this turns out for our craft beer friends over in Texas, but until then, here are four more state drinking laws that seem just as ridiculous…

1. Not So Happy Hour

Although happiness is not illegal, in 8 states including Massachusetts, Vermont, Utah, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Alaska, happy hours are banned. The laws were passed in these states in an effort to curb drunk driving, although the jury is still out on whether these laws have actually helped to do so. The ban on happy hours centers around not giving alcohol at a discount or away for free in deals like 2 for 1, but many establishments in these states are still able to offer happy hours, as long as it’s only for food discounts.

2. Horseback DUI

That’s right, in states such as Colorado, Michigan, and even here in California, it’s illegal to ride a horse on a public road while drinking. This law is aimed at the fact that horse and riders can cause major problems on roadways if not handled properly, but it does leave the question…if the horse isn’t drunk, then isn’t he your designated driver? In fact, a well-trained horse might be the first driverless vehicles around…suck it, Google.

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3. No Touch in Nebraska

This law is all about protecting patrons at bars and restaurants. In Nebraska, it’s illegal for bar owners or employees to touch patrons. No hugging, kissing or patting anywhere near their “no-no square.” Not sure how this applies to spouses or girlfriends/boyfriends, but we are pretty that this law isn’t super enforced around the state.

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4. How Young is Too Young?

This is truly the most surprising of the drinking laws that we found…In 8 states including, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming it’s actually legal for underage patrons to drink alcohol in a bar or restaurant as long as they are with their parents. Here in California, there is no serving to minors in any respect and it’s actually illegal to even serve alcohol to your kids in your own home. I’m a bit skeptical of the wisdom of letting parents decide whether their kids should be drinking at bars and restaurants, but I would guess that most people in these states don’t take advantage of these laws.

So to recap, some states decided that happy hour is too dangerous while others think it’s A-OK to serve kids alcohol as long as their parents are there. With the wide array of drinking laws on the books here in the U.S., it would be prudent to check up on the laws in your particular state. Remember, always drink responsibly and make sure you have a designated driver…as long as it isn’t your horse.

stranger beer with rocky mountain oyster

Stranger Brews: What’s In Your Beer?

Craft brewers love to experiment. Whether they’re home brewers or work at a major craft brewery, creativity is really at the heart of this industry. Brewers are always willing to push the envelope with styles of beer as well as ingredients. Purists will tell you that adding things like vanilla, chocolate or chili peppers to beer is unnecessary and in some cases, offensive, but others embrace the experimental nature of brewing and have fun with figuring out different ways to create their favorite beverage. Let’s take a look at five weird beers and their strange ingredients…

1. Bottled Instinct, 6/1% ABV (The Order of Yoni) 

While trying to come up with something witty and funny to write about this vagalicious beer I realized that nothing was better to describe this beer than the words on their website.  All typos are their own…

“Imagine woman of your dreams, your object of desire. Her charm, her sensuality, her passion… Try how she tastes, feel her smell, hear her voice… Now imagine her giving you a passionate massage and gently whispering anything you’d like to hear. Now free your fantasies and imagine all of that can be closed in a bottle of beer. A golden drink brewed with her lure and grace and flavored with wild instincts. Imagine a beer which every sip offers a rendez-vous with this hot woman of your dreams… she hugs you and kisses you gently, looking straight into your eyes… How much would you give for such a beer?

The secret of the beer lies in her vagina. Using hi-tech of microbiology, we isolate, examine and prepare lactic acid bacteria from vagina of a unique woman. The bacteria, lactobacillus, transfer woman’s features, allure, grace, glamour, and her instincts into beers and other products, turning them into dance with lovely goddess.”

Though they have very high standards for their models that they use in the Bottled Instinct campaign. “Every model in the beer project has to sign the contract with high penalty for working in adult industry, sex industry, as adult actress, escort, prostitute, etc., etc., etc.” Because vagina beer can’t get a bad rep…

2. Pisner Pilsner, Unknown ABV (Nørrebro Bryghus) 

A Danish brewery is taking upcycling to a whole new level by using human urine to help create a specialty beer lovingly dubbed, Pisner. In an effort to highlight what they are calling beer-cycling, this brewery used urine from a huge music festival in Denmark called Roskilde Music Festival. They gathered over 50,000 liters of urine and used it to fertilize the barley crops used to make this pilsner. The drug content of the festival urine alone should give one pause, but apparently, it makes for great fertilizer. This beer was made specifically to sell at this year’s 2017 festival as a way to utilize the immense amount of waste created by a fest of this size.

3. Beard Beer, 4.8% ABV (Rogue Ales)

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Truthfully, one could write a whole blog on the topic of strange beer ingredients and never look any further than Rogue Ales. They have a true zest for experimentation and their Voodoo series uses ingredients like donuts, bacon, maple, pretzels, banana, and lemons. True to this spirit, this American Wild Ale is made with the hair of a beard. Not just any beard either, the beard of John Maier, Rogue Ale’s master brewer. Apparently, they were looking for a new source of yeast and someone joked that Maier’s beard would be a good yeast producer since it had been around for more than 15,000 brews and sure enough, a yeast was born from his facial hair and used to brew Beard Beer. This brew is actually reported to be really good and won a gold medal at the 2015 World Beer Championships in the category of wild American ale.

4. Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, 7.5% ABV (Wynkoop Brewing Company)

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Sometimes the strange ingredient in a beer really does leave you scratching your, ahem, head. This beer, brewed in Denver at Wynkoop Brewing Company originally as an April fools joke, is described as a meaty, foreign-style stout made with Colorado base malts, roasted barley and 25 lbs of roasted bull testicles. People seem to like this beer though, regularly giving it a 7/10 or higher on Ratebeer.com. This beer was so popular at the outset that it enjoys a limited release yearly and happens to be on tap right now in their tasting room.

Although we do like to make additions to some of our beers here at Thorn Street Brewery, you are more likely to see jalapenos in our Chilecabra Pale Ale, coconut in our Castaway Coconut Porter and one-off additions like cashews in our Smuggler’s Cove Agave amber, than beard yeast or bull testicles. We salute these beers, though, because without this constant push for creativity and experimentation, craft beer wouldn’t be as awesome as it is today.

fallout from funkatorium

Funkatorium Fallout & South African Hops

Wicked Weed’s Funk

The fallout from last week’s announcement that Wicked Weed was bought by AB InBev just keeps coming. The reaction was swift, with people taking to the brewery’s Facebook page to denounce the buy-out in anger and disappointment. They still have plenty of fans and people who support their business move, but that disappointment spread quickly to other craft breweries. Apparently, Wicked Weed is a collaboration powerhouse and at least two breweries who had planned collabs with them respectfully pulled out of the plans. Jester King Brewery, in Texas was one of them.

“It’s no secret that Wicked Weed has been one of our closest friends in the beer industry. Regardless of what has transpired, we’ll always consider the people of Wicked Weed friends, and want the best for them and their families.

With that said, we have some core principles that define who we are as a brewery, and those principles must not be compromised. One of our core principles is that we do not sell beer from AB In-Bev or its affiliates. We’ve chosen this stance, not because of the quality of the beer, but because a portion of the money made off of selling it is used to oppose the interests of craft brewers. In Texas, large brewers (and their distributors) routinely oppose law changes that would help small, independent brewers. We choose not to support these large brewers because of their political stances, and in some cases, their economic practices as well.”

This sentiment was shared by numerous breweries who have work with Wicked Weed and as last week wore on, it became apparent that this buyout was going to be a little bloodier than usual. Wicked Weed hosts a beer festival every summer called the Funkatorium Invitational where breweries from all over the U.S. come and pour their sour and rare beers. The shit hit the proverbial fan and over the last week, more than 45 breweries pulled out of the July 8th fest. Someone over on the Facebook group, Colorado Let’s Talk Craft Beer, was kind enough to give a visual of this exodus.

Furthermore, word of a counter-festival being planned for the same weekend is spreading along with a “sour beer crawl” by Springdale Brewery in Mass, which will apparently feature many of the breweries that dropped out of the Wicked Weed fest.

How do you host a festival when more than half of the breweries drop out? You don’t, apparently. Tuesday, Wicked Weed posted on their Facebook page that they were postponing the Funkatorium Invitational until September, to regroup.

I get this is a bummer for Wicked Weed and I’m guessing that this last week was a tough one for their staff. Hopefully, some of the AB InBev money trickled down to the brewers, servers, cooks and other employees who helped make the brewery was it is today.

Maybe the biggest unintended loser in this equation, however, is the charity that was set to benefit from the Funkatorium Invitational. Eblen Charities, is a local Ashville organization that helps thousands of North Carolinians with medical and emergency assistance. Charities often count on large events like this one to fund their efforts throughout the year and the loss of one this big is sure to leave the charity scrambling. Again, Jester King led the way by posting a picture on social media that that showed they donated $1000 to Eblen in lieu of attending the festival. I would guess that many breweries will follow suit once they realize the negative impact on Eblen.

In fact, another brewery, Casa Agria Specialty Ales, out of Oxnard, CA, posted that they were also donating to Eblen after pulling out of the invitational. What they outlined in the rest of their post, however, is shocking, to say the least.

No South African Hops for You!

If you want to know why the once-fellow craft beer breweries are so disappointed in the sale to AB InBev, you don’t need to look further than the Boston Globe article, “Bars and packies got free equipment to push Budweiser, state says.” that came out on May 9th. Massachusetts regulators announced that Budweiser was engaging in rampant pay-to-play tactics that included offering $1 million in incentives to more than 400 bars and alcohol retailers throughout the region. This is nothing new, hardly surprising and really just another drop in the bucket of reasons why many people don’t want their money going to support a company that plays so dirty. What is surprising, however, is the underhanded tactics outlined in CASA’s post below.

SAB stands for South African Breweries, which is the biggest exporter of South African hops. The use of South African hops has been on the rise here in the states including, Lioness, Southern Passion and African Queen varieties. SAB is wholly owned by AB InBev (after the buyout of SAB Miller) and so if this email is true, this is a pretty damning move. this is exactly why many craft beer people are anti-Budweiser and anti-Big Beer. We are used to AB InBev’s pay-to-play antics, but this is on a whole other level. What happens when they start buying hop farms here in the U.S.? They already purchased Northern Brewer (which bought Midwest Supplies) making AB InBev the largest home brew supply company in the U.S. Once they buy out every step of the brewing process and culture, what will that mean for all of the independent breweries that rely on outside companies to produce their beers? They already have immense power in the political realm, so if they are able to control the laws, the supplies, the distribution, as well as the actual craft beer made at their purchased breweries, it seems like we are going to have a problem.

In the end, there will still be people who support the breweries that sold to AB InBev and other Big Beer, saying “drink what you like,” and “if the beer is still good, then I’ll still drink it.” But there is also a group of mostly industry insiders and hardcore craft beer fans that don’t support companies that conduct business in this way and aren’t afraid to speak up about the actions of big beer and how it hurts the craft beer industry as a whole. AB InBev isn’t here to make nice or to become part of the craft beer community; they are here to take it over from the inside out.

wicked weed beers on display

Sour Grapes: Wicked Weed Brewing Partners with AB InBev

It was announced this week that Ashville, North Carolina’s, Wicked Weed Brewing is selling (in part or all) to AB InBev. Or, if you want it sugar-coated a bit, the brewery “entered a strategic partnership” with the High End (AB InBev’s craft beer division). Wicked Weed is popular brew pub with 4 locations and was recently named the best brewery in North Carolina by Thrillist for their barrel and sour program. While the news was surprising to many of their fans, the news of another craft brewery being charmed by the money of big beer is becoming depressingly common. Here is the brew pub’s statement from their FB page:

“Just over four years ago, we started out with a simple idea: make great beer. From west-coast IPAs, to barrel-aged sours, we’ve been able to create world-class ales in a city that we love. We’ve grown from a small Brewpub with 60 employees, to a company with 4 locations and over 200 employees. In order to innovate, push the boundaries, and grow, we’ve decided to take on the High End branch of Anheuser-Busch as a strategic partner.

Our founding ownership staff will continue to lead Wicked Weed in their same capacities as we move forward, and into the future. This decision is a large part of the future for Wicked Weed, and will allow our brand, staff, and beers to achieve their greatest potential. We will be releasing more details soon. Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.”

The reaction from their fans was swift and predictable. On this one post, the emojis are evenly split between crying, thumbs up, and anger. Yes, I just reported on FB reaction emojis.

Here were some of the comments from this FB post that sum up people’s feelings pretty well:

  • “Ughhhhh…. someone else nailed it simply stating they’re disappointed. I don’t want to say that I won’t spend money on them. I gotta see where the quality takes them b/c of the move. But I’m not at the point to say #fuckwickedweed. I get the backlash and I am disheartened by the move. I’m just not at the point to blow up and cut them out completely. It is what it is at this point….”
  • “For the love of God, it’s beer, it’ll either taste the same or it won’t but who gives a rip WHERE it’s brewed if the quality remains. So many beer snobs not happy if it’s not brewed in some quaint location in the hills of Appalachia with a cute little gift shop where you can get a bumper sticker for your Subaru. This is business, plain & simple.
  • “I’m a capitalist pig, so hey, if someone offers you millions to buy what you’ve created, I will not fault you at all for selling it. On the flip side, I have choices as a consumer, so if I choose to no longer buy that product, nothing is forcing me to. The great thing about the free market is that there are usually other choices, and in the craft beer industry, there are thousands.”
  • As a former employee of the high-end, I find it funny that you think you’ll still be able to lead your brewery. Sorry guys, but you are no longer in charge of the decisions.
  • “You’ve expanded 3 times in 4 years and now distribute to several states. Clearly, you weren’t having problems selling beers. Apparently ‘achieving their greatest potential’ is now the PC way of saying we sold out to an enemy of craft beer. Good riddance.”
  • “No wonder we never heard from you when we were pushing for HB500. All of us in this state fighting for reform and cutting out the conglomerates. So now it’s your money that paid the politicians to strip our bill and the smaller guys can’t flourish and create more jobs in our local communities.”

HB500

This last comment from a fellow North Carolina brewer really gets to the heart of the issue for many craft beer enthusiasts. Sure, there are tons of beer drinkers out there who don’t care where their beer is brewed or who owns their favorite brewery. There are also people who care about the craft beer community as a whole and understand that getting in bed with the big guys means that the brewery’s interests no longer align with independent breweries. This actually matters in the arena of politics because large companies like AB InBev have a huge amount of influence (ie. money). HB500 was a bill that was going to be up for a vote in North Carolina and would have allowed mid-sized breweries to self-distribute and more flexibility within wholesale contracts.

Here in CA, we have very little restrictions on self-distribution, but in North Carolina, there is a cap on self-distribution. Breweries are allowed to self-distribute if they come under the 25,000 bbl per year cap but are required to enter a distribution contract with a wholesaler if they produce more than that. HB500 would have raised that cap to 200,000 bbls and also would have allowed more flexibility in ending distribution contracts, but the bill was removed from the floor once it was made clear by NC wholesalers that they wouldn’t even talk about the rest of the bill unless these two provisions were taken out.

What does this have to do with AB InBev? Well, they own or partner with 17 wholesalers in the NC. There are only 48 wholesalers in North Carolina so AB InBev has an active interest in 35% of all the wholesalers in NC and their ability to lock down distribution channels. Of course, wholesalers wouldn’t want this bill to pass because not only would it take money out of their pocket by allowing more breweries to grow on their own without entering into contracts with them, but it also would have allowed breweries more leeway to exit these partnerships which are incredibly hard to end in their current state.  The pressure came from the big dogs in this one and the general assembly in NC caved. The bill was pulled from the floor because while it might have passed without those two key provisions, it would have been a shadow of its former self and wouldn’t help small, independent breweries in the way it was intended. Having beer distributed by a wholesaler can be a great thing and a needed avenue of growth for many breweries, however, states like California have proven that you don’t have to legislate those relationships for them to be mutually beneficial.

And the issue is…

This is why ownership matters to some craft beer consumers. Wicked Weed didn’t just sell to a bigger brewery, they sold to the biggest brewery in the world and one who has been busted illegally incentivising and influencing their wholesale partners to carry more of their beers and cut out other craft beers. When people are worried about the quality of beer changing when breweries sell out, that the least of concern. AB InBev wants their craft beer brands to succeed so when they have locked down all the distribution channels in small states like NC, they have good beer of their own to supply to the wholesalers. People will be able to say, “Yes they sold out, but their beer is still good!” and move on with their lives. But if distributors whittle down their beer brands to the more inexpensive (scaling, remember) offerings from AB InBev, then ultimately our choice as consumers will be cut out. Right now AB InBev has 10 craft breweries in their High End division with no signs of stopping. What happens when they have 100? What happens when they have bought up more and more distributors further choking the industry down to their own brands?

In the end, smaller breweries will continue to be bought out by or form strategic partnerships with bigger breweries and beverage conglomerates. That’s the way of growth for many and maybe it will allow these breweries to “innovate, push boundaries, and grow.” Sure, all those things all sounds grand, but when you are “partnering” with a mega-brewer that is trying to create a stranglehold on the industry, is it really worth it? I guess it must be…

I will leave you with this FB post from Jester King Brewery that explains the issue perfectly: