The Thirsty Beagle: March 2016

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

New Oklahoma brewer set to hit the market

Oklahoma's newest commercial brewer is about to hit the scene, as Nothing's Left Brewing Co. eyes its debut this week.

Nothing's Left founder and brewmaster Travis Richards will release his first beer -- Galaxy Pale Ale -- at 5 p.m. Friday at Oak & Ore.

That will be followed up with a pint night at The Patriarch on April 7 and then a series of pint nights in the Tulsa area.

Richards said the public debut has been a long time coming.

"I don't even think words can describe how happy it makes me that we are finally coming to market," he said. "I've been working toward this release for about a year now... it's super-exciting to finally be here."

Nothing's Left is based in Tulsa, but the first commercial batch was brewed under Richards' supervision at Anthem Brewing in Oklahoma City.

Richards said he's pointing toward his own brick-and-mortar building eventually, which hopefully will be located in his hometown of Broken Arrow.

At the outset, Galaxy Pale Ale will be available only on tap. Several bars and restaurants in the Tulsa area are expected to also put the beer on tap on Friday.

Richards said he hopes to have his beers in cans eventually, and didn't rule out bottled special-release offerings.

Monday, March 28, 2016

RLAO may consider legal challenge to SJR 68

It's been almost a month since the last petition for an alcohol law reform state question was filed, and longer since the state Senate approved Senate Joint Resolution 68 and sent it along to the House.

But that doesn't mean that all has been quiet on the alcohol law front. Quite the contrary.

On Thursday, the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma filed a legal challenge against the initiative petition (State Question 786, if it were to make it on the election ballot) submitted by the Walmart-backed Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom.

That moved smelled of retaliation, as two weeks earlier, the Oklahoma Grocers Association filed a challenge against the petition (State Question 785) filed by the RLAO.

In the latter case, the Grocers Association claims the RLAO petition is "misleading" and "deceptive." I've expressed my misgivings about the RLAO petition as well. While the petition seeks wins for craft beer, for me, it is simply too restrictive for grocery and convenience stores.

The grocers claim the petition actually usurps the authority of the ABLE Commission by allowing liquor stores to sell their wine licenses to grocery stores.

RLAO President Bryan Kerr dismissed that concern, telling The Oklahoman that, "Nobody is usurping anybody's power. We are just asking for a little capitalism to be involved."

If there was any doubt about just how high the rhetoric meter can go, that statement proves there may be no limits.

The old trick of trying to woo voters and stoke public sentiment by evoking capitalism is fine, but such a tactic rings hollow coming from the RLAO, whose petition would limit the number of stores that would be allowed to sell wine in order to give existing liquor stores protection from new market forces.

I don't say that in an effort to anger liquor store owners. I count the liquor stores owners that I know as some of the nicest, best people involved in the craft beer industry. I'm just puzzled by some of the statements from the RLAO specifically, and I feel like when any side in this deal -- be it RLAO, Budweiser or whoever -- makes statements that don't hold up, they should be called on it.

Needless to say, it was not a surprise when the RLAO filed a challenge against the petition from Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom. In its challenge, the RLAO claims the OCF petition violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by denying liquor store owners equal protection under the law.

"Our opinion is basically that it creates an uneven playing field and puts retail package stores at a seriously unfair advantage," Kerr told The Oklahoman.

The RLAO argument is that liquor stores owners are only allowed to hold one license/operate one store, while the OCF petition would allow grocery and convenience store owners to sell beer and wine in as many stores as they want.

It's worth noting that liquor stores would still have one decided advantage over grocery and convenience stores, that being the ability to sell liquor. But that's an aside, and the RLAO would tell you that Walmart eventually will have its eyes set on liquor, too. That's an argument for another time.

The arguments to be concerned with right now will be heard in court, where each group will have to defend the challenges to their petitions. If you're unfamiliar with the initiative petition process, these challenges are not unexpected. 

Filing a challenge is actually a very common tactic when you want to stop an initiative petition. If you can't have it stricken by a judge, the next best thing is tying the matter up in court so that the petitioner runs out of time to collect the 120,000-plus signatures needed to get an item on the ballot. 

So would I be surprised if neither the RLAO or OCF ended up getting their petition on the ballot? No. Many more initiative petition efforts are unsuccessful than the other way around. Of course, that doesn't mean Oklahoma can't pass alcohol law reform. Don't forget about SJR 68.

Of course, also don't forget that SJR 68 is almost identical to the OCF petition, which the RLAO challenged and called unconstitutional. It raises an obvious question: Will the RLAO also challenge SJR 68?

I sent Kerr a message asking that question. His response:

"Our lawyers say it has the same issues that Walmart's petition does. We hope to see those problems addressed through amendment in the House. If they aren't, we'd certainly consider asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to determine SJR 68's constitutional validity."

Sit tight everyone. It doesn't appear any of this is going to get done the easy way.

Pints and Pins

-Your Monday pint nights at the McNellie's pubs: Magic Hat #9 in Oklahoma City; Harp Lager in Norman; Goose Island Matilda in Tulsa; and Bavik Pils at Tulsa-South.

-The Patriarch will tap a keg of Avery Tweak this Thursday at 6 p.m. This strong beer (17.8% ABV) is an imperial stout with coffee added and aged in bourbon barrels. Also a reminder that The Patriarch's Founders Tap Takeover is this Wednesday night.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Roughtail turns Adaptation #3 into year-round beer, plans 3rd annivesary party

Roughtail Brewing announced Tuesday that they will soon unveil a new(ish) year round beer: Everything Rhymes with Orange IPA.

I say "newish" because the beer technically has been around a little bit. As explained on the beer's label, ERWO was "formerly known at Adaptation Ale 3," the recently released rotating IPA in Roughtail's Adaptation Series.

Roughtail describes the beer as "a showcase for juicy, citrusy hops." The beer is "Hazy and non-filtered" and "features low bitterness and a full, soft body while finishing dry and clean."

The beer features Simcoe hops as the feature hop, with Citra and Mosaic providing support.

It appears the first chance you'll have to try this beer -- assuming you haven't already tried Adaptation #3, will be April 9, during Roughtail's 3rd Anniversary and Repeal Day Party. Here's all the info on that, lifted from the event FB page:

Roughtail Brewing Company will be celebrating our third birthday, and would like to invite you to join us in the festivities. It just so happens that the 18th amendment was repealed on April 7th, so we are going to celebrate that as well.

All proceeds will go to benefit LOCAL, League of Oklahomans for Change in Alcohol Laws. You will receive a taster glass upon entry and can sample all the beers as many times as you would like.
The party will take place on the brewery grounds at 1279 N. Air Depot Blvd. in Midwest City from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Live music will be provided by Midwest City's own The Happy Entitled and Chris Lashley. Food will be available for purchase from local food trucks. Non alcoholic sodas will be provided to holders of designated driver tickets. Water will be available to everyone.

There is free giant twister and sumo wrestling. There will also be a dunk tank with local celebrities like Kevin Douglas Hall and Blaine Stansel.

The festivities will be on, rain or shine. Please bring your Eventbrite ticket if you purchased one to the event! MUST BE 21 to enter!

Tickets are $25 and will also be available at the brewery on the day of the event, for $30. Designated driver tix are available as well.

Roughtail on Tuesday also released a beer list for the party:

-Single Hop IPAs featuring Simcoe; Galaxy; Idaho 7; Waimea; and Comet
-1990s IPA
-3rd Anniversary Ale
-Roughtail's year round beers
-Four Randalls, including Hoptometrist through curry spices

Monday, March 21, 2016

Magic Hat rolling out in Oklahoma

In a move that sort of snuck up on Oklahoma craft beer observers, Vermont's Magic Hat Brewing Company will soon be widely available in-state -- in fact you may have already seen it pop up at your local bar or liquor store.

Magic Hat is probably best known for its Magic Hat #9 (Not Quite Pale Ale), a sessionable and pleasingly citrusy pale. They've also garnered a rep for the whimsical and philosophical musings you can find printed under their bottle caps.

In Oklahoma, in addition to #9, you'll also be able to find Low Key Session IPA, Electric Peel Grapefruit IPA, and a Spring Fever variety pack featuring #9, Low Key, Single Chair Golden Ale and Mother Lager Euro-Style Lager.

No word yet on seasonals and special releases. It does look like #9 will be available in cans, though.

Yet another good get for Oklahoma's craft beer scene.

So what else is up?

Pints and Pins

-Oak & Ore is hosting a special pouring of Avery Tweak on Tuesday (March 22) evening, the once-a-year, 17.5 percent ABV, bourbon-barrel-aged coffee stout. Only 40 glasses will be poured, and each will come with an Avery pint glass to take home. Pours will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets for the glassware will be released at 5 p.m., and pours begin at 5:30.

-The Patriarch is holding a couple events in the next week or so. First, an Evil Twin Coozie Night is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 23. Then, on March 30, they're holding a Founders Tap Takeover, featuring Nitro Pale Ale, Old Curmudgeon, Mango Magnifico (Blogger's note: Mango appears to be the hot new trend in craft beer), Dirty Bastard, Backwoods Bastard, Dark Penance and Imperial Stout.

-Roughtail's Hoptometrist made Beer Connoisseur Magazine's list of top 41 IPAs. Why 41? I'm not sure, and the Web article won't load for me. Seems they're having some kind of bug on their end. But good for Roughtail all the same. Interesting side story on Hoptometrist: I helped bottle the first ever production batch of Hoptometrist -- I think it was in 2014. It was all very labor-intensive and mostly by hand, and as we worked out the kinks of filling the bottles, we ended up with a dozen or more quality-control bottles -- bad capping, low fill, etc. I got to take four or five bottles home, and enjoyed them all in fairly quick order... except for one! I still have that bottle. This is it right here:

I'm fairly sure Roughtail brewmaster Tony Tielli would kill me for not drinking this fresh. But now it's kind of turned into an experiment of sorts. What would the beer taste like now? I'm holding out for some kind of special bottle share where I can whip this out and we can all analyze what has become of it (despite the fact Mrs. Beagle keeps telling me that this magical bottle share I've been waiting for where I will unleash all my fantastic saved-up beers that are crowding the fridge won't ever actually happen). Either way, just know this: If you're looking to host some kind of magical bottle share, go ahead and invite me. I may just bring what could be one of the oldest bottles of Hoptometrist in the world!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Roughtail unveils citrus-bomb anniversary ale

If you like hops, and you like citrus notes in your beer, and you just like Roughtail beer in general, do I have a deal for you.

I had a chance to try Roughtail's brand new 3rd Anniversary Ale last night, and I think they've hit the mark with this offering.

The beer is a limited release -- only 98 cases and 20 kegs were produced, and when you hear Roughtail describe how it was made, you'll know why such a limited amount was produced.

"We brewed a big West Coast style Double IPA (one of our favorite styles) with Galaxy, Citra and El Dorado hops. To really crank up the intensity we added 21 pounds per barrel of Blood Orange and Grapefruit puree. We used whole fruit puree instead of just zest to get as much flavor and aroma as possible into the can."

So how was it? From the top, the beer features a knock-your-socks-off aroma -- you know you're about to get into a citrus-bomb. It was hazy, thanks to the fruit puree. I could have used a little more head retention, but otherwise the appearance was nice.

I'm a big fan of the flavor -- it's got in-your-face grapefruit and a strong hop presence, but all in balance. In fact, that was probably my biggest takeaway, the way all the elements of the beer seemed to meld together in harmony.

And I would recommend you take your time with it when you're enjoying it. As the beer warmed slightly, I felt like the aroma and flavor unfolded a little differently with each sip.

On the whole, I thought the beer had the unmistakable characters of a Roughtail beer -- aggressive, hoppy and unapologetic. Definitely worth a shot.

Pints and Pins

-Happy St. Patrick's Day, y'all! Don't forget that the McNellie's OKC St. Pat's Block Party is today. The pub opens at 10, and the street party begins at noon. There's drinks and music all day.

-Also on the St. Patrick's Day beat, Slaughter's Hall is offering an Irish-inspired menu all day today, along with drink specials.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How did Budweiser strike back in SJR 68?

A couple weeks ago -- right as Anhuesuer-Busch Sales of Oklahoma was tearing into Sen. Clark Jolley over the introduction of Senate Joint Resolution 68 -- I posted an interview with a local A-B rep.

SJR 68, as it was introduced, gave A-B five years to sell off its distributor businesses in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. It was not a matter of if, but when. This naturally angered A-B tremendously -- after all, it would upend their business model in Oklahoma. In response, they launched an attack campaign against Jolley.

My interview was spurred on by some of the rather fantastic claims A-B made in their attack ads. When I posted the interview, I said I had some thoughts to share about A-B's tactics.

For reasons I'll get to later in this post, I'm just now able to follow up on this issue.

First, as many readers pointed out, A-B's responses to my questions were heavy on pre-canned talking points and light on actual answers. Some of the responses actually did not speak to the questions at all, like this exchange:

The Thirsty Beagle: I know you are aware of the initiative petition filed by Oklahomans for Modern Laws. Is Anheuser-Busch Sales of Oklahoma considering filing its own initiative petition? Or would you prefer to seek a legislative solution?

Eric James: We support modernization of Oklahoma’s alcohol laws, but not if it would force Anheuser-Busch out of Oklahoma and threaten hundreds of jobs. We cannot support a bill that would inhibit our ability to operate in Oklahoma.

On that point, I followed up specifically about the possibility of an A-B initiative petition, since they had dodged that part of the question.

On some other questions they more generally spoke to the gist of the inquiry, although often in a markedly roundabout way, like here:

TTB: To be blunt, this is not the first time ABI has faced a situation like this, and in states like Ohio and Kentucky, I know they still sell Budweiser. Please explain why Oklahoma would be different than the other states and why a five-year window isn't a fair compromise.

Eric James: We are proud of our Oklahoma employees and operations here. We employ 700 Oklahomans, have invested $300 million in our operations, contributed thousands to local non-profits last year and put $4.2 million toward marketing sponsorships in the state in 2015. Our operations include our two distributorships and a lid plant, and these facilities provide well-paid jobs.

We also promote responsibility, which includes significant investment in responsible consumption programs and marketing. Locally, we provided more than $150,000 in 2015 to support responsible consumption through programs like TIPS training, Good Sports, We ID and water donations to disaster relief efforts.

We believe modernization and distribution ownership are two wholly separate issues. We support modernization that gives consumers the strong beer that they want. However, modernization can be accomplished without putting anyone out of business.

The role of the government is to provide the legislative framework for companies to operate within. We believe beer drinkers should pick the companies and brands they want to support.

What really wasn't accomplished in that interview, however, was a debate/discussion on some of A-B's more inflammatory claims: Hundreds of jobs would be in jeopardy; the price of beer would go up; A-B's sponsorships and community efforts would be compromised; and Budweiser would have to pull out of Oklahoma.

Let's analyze those claims.

-Hundreds of jobs would be threatened: Most likely not true. A majority of the local A-B employees would have been hired on by whichever distributor took over, as has happened in similar situations in other states. In fact, several industry experts told me that when A-B divests, it usually means more jobs are added in-state as the new company brings HR and other administrative positions in-house, as opposed to at A-B corporate headquarters in Missouri.

-The price of beer would go up: If that was true, A-B gave no explanation as to why that would happen. You could speculate that they themselves might have opted to raise their prices, since in a three-tier distribution system -- as opposed to the current two-tier low-point system -- they would get a smaller piece of the pie.

-Anheuser-Busch would discontinue local sponsorships and community support: Again, most likely not true. That doesn't even really make sense from a business perspective. For example, A-B recently had to divest of a large distributorship share in Illinois, and since that time has poured a lot of money into the state and has pretty much taken over Wrigley Field, as just one show of continued and increased sponsorships.

-Budweiser would be forced to pull out of Oklahoma: Perhaps the most ambiguous of all. As one Facebook commenter noted, "If SJR 68 forces Budweiser to stop selling beer in Oklahoma, can I line up to vote for it right now?"

Now, I had planned to post all of this a while back, but before I could do that, something funny happened: The language to SJR 68 as it relates to A-B was changed.

All the sudden, SJR 68 said that A-B would not have to sell off its distributorships. They would be allowed to keep them (with the caveat that the Legislature would be allowed to pass laws in the future that could force them to divest).

A-B was able to kick the can down the road. Now, any move to make A-B divest will almost assuredly end up being challenged in court, just like it has in many other states. A-B no doubt prefers that over a vote of the people. In court, they can throw high-powered lawyers at the problem. At the polls, less control. (Only problem for A-B is that they've consistently been losing such court cases in other states.)

So, A-B called off the dogs on Jolley and issued a statement saying they were content. The Senate passed the modified SJR 68 and moved it along to the House.

Of course, that still leaves one obvious question: How in the heck did A-B get the language changed?

Many have speculated that Jolley simply caved under the relentless pressure from A-B, but I don't think it was that simple. A more likely scenario is that there are numerous forces within the Capitol who felt that a prolonged fight with A-B was not in the best interest of getting alcohol reform passed this year.

I traded emails with Rep. Glen Mulready, the House author of SJR 68, and he spoke to that point:

"I was uncomfortable with the mandate of divesting," Mulready said. "My feelings from the beginning were, 'This is currently operating this way and has for years. It is not cratering the market. Let's just limit their (A-B's) footprint and move on. We don't need to pick this fight and potentially derail our larger efforts.'"

Mulready agreed that the process of moving SJR 68 through the system has required lawmakers, proponents and opponents to practice compromise. That's a term -- compromise -- that both the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma and the League of Oklahomans for Change Alcohol Laws (both supporters of the original language of SJR 68) have spoken to as well.

Clearly, not everyone will get everything they want when it comes to alcohol law reform.

But one thing we know is this: If anyone has the resources to either fight SJR 68 or to introduce a competing initiative petition intended to submarine the measure, it's the mega-international-conglomeration that is Anheuser-Busch InBev. And you have to remember that roughly 90 percent of Oklahoma beer drinkers still prefer light American lagers.

You might not like A-B and their hypocritical, anti-craft beer commercials, but you can't deny that they still have a lot of power to ply and money to throw around.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

OKC venues feel the luck o' the Irish a little early

The real St. Patrick's Day may not be until next Thursday, but that's not stopping Oklahoma City bars from rolling out the green carpet this weekend.

TapWerks is hosting its annual St. Patrick's Day Block Party from 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday. They'll feature draft beer, a liquor bar, live music and at least a couple food trucks in the parking lot next to the pub.

Just down the street in Bricktown, the Bricktown Brewery is also celebrating on Saturday. They'll be open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. with live music, green beer (Doh!), Irish food, bagpipes (not Irish) and free giveaways.

(I'm just giving BTB a hard time -- the bagpipes are cool. The green beer? We need to talk about that...)

Over in Midtown, McNellie's-OKC is waiting until March 17 to commemorate the occasion, when the establishment will celebrate its 13th St. Patrick's Day by opening at 10 a.m. and then kicking off a street party at noon. The day will feature beer, food, live music and a live DJ all day.

I have the understanding that a good time will be had by all.

Pints and Pins

-Oak & Ore is hosting an Against the Grain Brewery pint night on Wednesday, featuring Rico Sauvin (double IPA), Kentucky Ryed Chiquen (rye beer aged in whiskey barrels), The Brown Note (American brown ale), and 35K (milk stout). Glassware is a branded whiskey tumbler.

-The Patriarch recently added the following beers to the tap lineup: Bitter Sisters Busy Body Blonde, Great Divide Old Ruffian, Anthem Golden One, Boulevard/Cigar City Collaboration No. 5 Tropical Pale Ale, Big Sky IPA and Founders 2015 Backwoods Bastard.

-I'm pretty sure this had been announced some time ago, but did you know Republic will open a new branch in the Chisholm Creek development at Memorial and Western? And, it was just announced that a second location for Sidecar Barley & Wine Bar (the first is in Automobile Alley) will also open up at Chisholm Creek. That's music to the ears of us northsiders.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Tulsa Craft Beer Week announces May dates

The state's original craft beer week -- Tulsa Craft Beer Week -- will return in 2016, and organizers have announced this year's dates.

TCBW will be May 14-22. Here is a news release organizers sent out on Monday:

The Tulsa Craft Beer Committee is proud to announce that planning for the fourth annual Tulsa Craft Beer Week (May 14th – May 22nd) is underway!

Tulsa Craft Beer Week began as a simple dream and a conversation between people in the craft beer industry. Several cities and states nationwide host “Craft Beer Weeks” every year to focus the spotlight on the growing craft beer community, why not Tulsa? Planning soon began, and with help from the entire craft beer community, including breweries and local business owners, Tulsa Craft Beer Week was born!

For those of you unfamiliar with Tulsa Craft Beer Week, our committee does not plan any of the week's events. We seek to provide leadership and organization for local businesses to plan their own events, as well as provide promotional support via online and print advertising. All of our services are completely free of charge; TCBW is run entirely by volunteers with a desire to spread the craft beer movement!

Part of our goal with TCBW is sharing something we are passionate about with people of all experience levels, ranging from the non-craft beer drinker all the way up to craft veterans, hop heads, and home brewers alike! We truly believe there is something for everyone in the craft beer world, and we want to help you explore it!

In years past, Tulsa Craft Beer Week has featured beer dinners, pint nights, tap takeovers, outdoor festivals, and more in establishments all over the city. The people of Tulsa have taken notice, and each year have responded in record numbers to their favorite craft beer establishments to support the movement.

Tulsa Craft Beer Week 2014 & 2015 added an extended calendar, in an effort to feature more events. Numerous events were added to the calendar, including a golf tournament, brewery tours, beer-themed brunch, and more! Last year’s TCBW events were featured in several newspapers, online blogs, TV, radio, and even with our very own badge on “Untappd”, a social network site for craft beer enthusiasts.

For TCBW ’16, the calendar will stretch from Saturday, May 14th until May 22nd! This format allows for the maximum number of events to be held, so that anyone interested in craft beer has a chance to get in on the action!

Anyone interested in hosting their own event should contact Tulsa Craft Beer Week organizers for more information. More information will be released as it becomes available via Tulsa Craft Beer Week’s social media pages.

Pints and Pins

-Interested in getting started in homebrewing? The Brew Shop has scheduled a beginners kit homebrew class for April 9.

-Marshall Brewing's spring seasonal Revival Red Ale is headed to bars and liquor stores near you. This is one beer I look forward to every year. Also, Marshall's pint and growler fill hours this week are 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday and noon to 7 p.m. Friday.

-Dead Armadillo has announced a release party on March 23 at the Saturn Room in Tulsa for its newest beer, Morning Bender Coffee Oatmeal Stout.

-The Patriarch recently put Anthem Arjuna and Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti on tap, as well as a lineup of new-to-Oklahoma Rahr & Sons beers.

-Oak & Ore is hosting a Shmaltz Brewing tap takeover on Wednesday night.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Oklahoma alcohol reform scorecard: What we know so far

We're officially one month into this year's legislative session, so this seems like as good a time as any to take stock of where we stand on Oklahoma alcohol law reform.

-I blogged last Monday that the Walmart-backed group Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom would likely file its own initiative petition, and on Wednesday, they did. I scoured over the document, which would be State Question 786 if it were to make the November election ballot, and found that is was almost identical to Senate Joint Resolution 68. The major difference was language limiting non-alcohol sales in liquor stores to 10 percent of a store's total sales. SJR 68 would cap such sales at 20 percent.

-Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom had been on the record, even on the same day they filed their initiative petition, voicing support for SJR 68. So why file one document that essentially mirrors the other? OCF spokesman Tyler Moore said the group continues to support SJR 68, but filed SQ 786 "as a back-up option if the legislature does not give Oklahomans the chance to vote on modernization."

-OCF announced a sizable list of entities supporting its state question, including the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma; the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce; the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce; the Oklahoma Grocers Association; the Oklahoma Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association; and the group Oklahomans for Modern Laws, among others.

-You may remember that Oklahomans for Modern Laws was the first group to file an initiative petition -- State Question 783. Following the move by OCF, OFML announced they would not pursue their measure any longer.

-That leaves us with SQ 786, SJR 68, and SQ 785. The latter is the initiative petition filed by the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma. All three measures would allow liquor stores to refrigerate wine and beer, and would allow for strong beer in grocery and convenience stores.

-SQ 786 and SJR 68 would also allow the sale of wine in grocery and convenience stores. SQ 785 -- while it easily scores as the best document as far as craft beer is concerned -- would severely limit the ability of grocery and convenience stores to sell wine. 

-Under SQ 785, any given chain or company would be allowed to own a maximum of only four wine licenses. Even then, a retail outlet would not be allowed to hold a wine license if it were located within about a half mile of an existing liquor store. Further, nobody would be allowed to secure the licenses necessary to open their own liquor store within about a half mile of any existing liquor store.

-So what would SQ 785 do for craft brewers? First and foremost, it would allow brewers to sell their beer to consumers on the brewery premise. That's a key ask for craft brewers as far as reform goes. Several brewers have told me that the ability to operate a real taproom would be a game changer for their business. Several would-be brewers have told me the lack of ability to operate a true taproom is what keeps them from opening up shop.

-So what would SJR 68/SQ 786 do for craft beer? Well, as far as I can tell, not that much really. Those measures would allow for refrigeration of strong beer, which would help with the integrity of the product -- especially hop-forward styles. So there's that. But on the issue of on-premise sales and/or consumption, the measures defer to the legislature to figure it out. 

-So what exactly does that look like? This is where we will see Senate Bill 424 again. That legislation was authored in the 2015 session by Sen. Brian Crain as a way to allow craft brewers to sell packaged beer out of the brewery. That bill has since been amended and includes very clear language stating that a brewer license allows the license holder to "sell beer produced by the licensee to consumers twenty-one (21) years of age or older on the premises of the brewery." So, if you really want to advocate for craft beer, it appears you need to get on the phone about SB 424.

(UPDATE! After posting this, I was informed that SB 424 will likely not proceed this session. Instead, the language from SB 424 will be rolled into SB 383. Sorry about that mix-up. For the purposes of this post, any reference to SB 424 should really be to SB 383.)

-So if SJR 68 is largely silent on the issue of craft beer, what would it accomplish? In addition to the above-stated retail issues, SJR 68 deals with distribution and wholesaling issues. And that's where things get tricky. The language in SJR 68 is difficult to understand not just for the average chap, but even for seasoned political junkies.

-On that point, Oklahoma City attorney and alcohol industry veteran Danny Shadid penned an interesting op-ed for The Oklahoman the other day. You can read that here. Shadid points out that SJR 68 goes much deeper than just the issue of wine in grocery stores. He claims the measure could increase alcohol prices by 20 to 25 percent and open the door for unsavory out-of-state influences. Give it a read.

-And what about that whole Anheuser-Busch deal? One week they're being forced to sell off their distributorships thanks to SJR 68 and then unleashing a massive attack against Sen. Clark Jolley (SJR 68's author). The next week, they've "made a deal" to be able to keep their distributorships, although with language that the legislature can force them to divest later. So how did they secure this deal? I'm working on a blog post that would explain that, but in short, I don't think it was Jolley's fault.

-The Beer Distributors of Oklahoma were one of the biggest supporters of SJR 68 when it included language that forced A-B to sell. How did they feel when A-B struck back? They played it diplomatic, with BDO President Brett Robinson telling me this: "The brewery branch issue is extremely important to BDO members, however the political process at the state Capitol requires negotiation and compromise, especially with an issue that includes multiple stakeholders and is as complex as modernizing Oklahoma's alcohol laws. ... BDO will continue to advocate that a true three-tier system supports market place competition while providing the most choice and convenience for consumers."

And so where do we go from here? As the dust settles somewhat, we see that SJR 68 appears more and more to be a big business vs. little business-type measure, with big business holding all the cards right now. That's not altogether that far off from what I predicted when we came out of the Oak & Ore craft beer summit -- when I said that I feared alcohol reform was being taken over by the regular ol' political and special interest forces. Seeing how little SJR 68 actually does for craft beer only reinforces that.

(UPDATE #2: Man, I must have been asleep at the wheel last night when I was writing this post. While criticizing SJR 68 for not including enough for craft beer, I neglected to mention a point I had already blogged about last week: At least as it appears to me, SJR 68 would likely allow craft brewers to sell packaged beer out of their brewery for off-premise consumption. Can't believe I missed that. You can see there's a lot to keep track of, and I obviously let myself get tripped up, even.)

(Which, again, makes all the claims from Tap Oklahoma and Anheuser-Busch about supporting craft beer all the more disingenuous.)

What still leaves me a little leery is the Walmart-backed initiative petition. If they felt they needed to hedge their bets by filing that, that means they obviously felt at least some concern that the Legislature might not get it done on SJR 68 this year.

And if the Legislature can't get it done on SJR 68, how are we so sure they're going to get it done on SB 424?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Walmart-backed group files for initiative petition on Oklahoma alcohol laws

Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom -- the group that touts itself as Tap Oklahoma on social media and counts the Walmart chain as its biggest backer -- has joined the alcohol reform fray in full force by filing for its own initiative petition.

The language for State Question 786 was filed Wednesday with the Secretary of State. You can see the document here.

We're now up to three different initiative petitions (SQs 783, 785 and 786) and one legislative referendum measure (SJR 68). All we're missing now is for Budweiser, the Oklahoma Restaurant Association and all the disgruntled small liquor distributors to file their own petitions, and we'll really be set.

I'm still digesting the language on the Walmart-backed petition, but at first glance it appears very similar to the language in SJR 68. One obvious difference is that liquor stores would be able to sell any item sold at a grocery store, as long as such sales don't account for more than 10 percent of total sales. SJR 68 would allow up to 20 percent.

Another big difference is the section quoted below, which would prohibit the sale by some license holders of alcoholic beverages combined with caffeine, with one notable exception:

"Beer or malt beverages to which caffeine has been intentionally added as a separate ingredient for the purpose of providing a stimulant effect shall not be bought or sold by any entity holding a license under this Section within the State of Oklahoma. This Section should not be interpreted to prohibit the sale of beer brewed with ingredients used for their flavor profile that contain caffeine as a natural constituent, such as coffee and chocolate."

Other highlights:

-On Anheuser-Busch's distribution: Same as SJR 68
-Yes on cold beer and wine in liquor stores
-Yes on full-strength cold beer and wine in any number of grocery, convenience, drug stores, etc.
-Licenses for on-premise consumption (like in a taproom) are to be decided separately by the Legislature.

I've reached out to Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom to ask if I'm missing anything else that separates their petition from SJR 68. Unless there's a whole section or some fine language that I'm not spotting, it appears the main difference is the measure takes a swipe at liquor stores by cutting down on the amount of non-alcohol items they can sell.

I've also asked why they would file their own initiative petition on the day after (and technically the same day, if you check their Facebook page) publicly supporting the passage of SJR 68 in the Senate.

I will update this blog post if I get responses to those questions.

UPDATE: Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom responded to my questions with this statement:

"Thank you for your inquiry about our initiative petition. We will be distributing a news release tomorrow morning with additional information, including a list of our coalition partners."

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

SJR 68 passes state Senate, Budweiser deal included

The Oklahoma Senate on Tuesday passed Senate Joint Resolution 68, sending the likely vehicle for state alcohol law reform to the House for discussion and debate.

The version of the measure approved by the Senate -- on a 28-16 vote -- features at least one significant change from the as-introduced version: A concession that allows Anheuser-Busch to maintain ownership of its Oklahoma City and Tulsa distribution businesses, for the time being.

The key overall gist of the measure as far as consumers are concerned is that it would allow the sale of cold, full-strength beer and wine in grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations and drug stores, etc.

While the measure would allow small Oklahoma brewers to sell their own sealed and packaged beer straight out of their brewery, it would not allow brewers to sell drinks by the glass for consumption on-premise. In other words, it would not permit operation of legitimate tap rooms.

That change is not out of the question, however. It would need to be addressed in other legislation considered by state lawmakers.

(Which raises an interesting question: If there is no distinction between high-point and low-point beer anymore, it stands to reason that places like COOP, Roughtail and Anthem would not be able to sell pints of low-point beer without approval of some kind of overarching tap room law. That puts a lot of pressure on whatever other legislation is out there to get something done, in my mind.)

As for A-B, SJR 68 would give lawmakers the ability to "duly enact legislation to require, by statute, the divestiture of all brewery-branches."

So Anheuser-Busch, after slamming measure author Sen. Clark Jolley in print, on television and on the Internet, was able to secure a compromise with the senator that lets them kick the distribution can down the road and fight that battle another day.

Reaction came out quickly on Tuesday from all sides on SJR 68. Here is a sampling:

"The Craft Brewers Association of Oklahoma is pleased to see that the legislative process is moving forward. We continue to feel that this gives all interested parties the opportunity to be involved in reform. We are interested to see what happens as this measure enters the House and what supporting legislation is introduced. We want to see a more modern market environment in which both consumer choice and Oklahoma businesses thrive."

-- Zach Prichard, president of Choc Beer Co. and the CBAO

"We applaud the Senate for passing SJR 68 to give Oklahomans the opportunity to vote on modernizing our alcohol laws in November. Our current laws, left-over from Prohibition, hold back our economy, hassle consumers and send money out of the state. It's time to update our beer and wine laws to increase choices and convenience for Oklahomans."

-- Tyler Moore, spokesman for Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom/Tap Oklahoma (Blogger's note: Tap Oklahoma is backed by the likes of Walmart and the state's large grocery and convenience chains.)

"We have always supported modernization, but not at the cost of our business and jobs in Oklahoma. We are pleased that the current legislation allows us to maintain our operations and employees in Oklahoma, while giving Oklahoma beer drinkers what they are looking for -- cold, strong beer through a distribution system that provides both quality and convenience. We look forward to continue working closely with all parties to ensure true modernization is achieved for the Oklahoma consumer."

-- Anheuser-Busch Sales of Oklahoma 

"The independent members of the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma applaud the state Senate for their passage of SJR 68 and commend Senator Clark Jolley for his focused work in seeing the resolution through the Senate. BDO also commends Senator Brian Bingman and Senator Stephanie Bice for their leadership as well on this complex issue. Their collective efforts hopefully will provide the opportunity for Oklahomans to vote November 8th to modernize Oklahoma’s alcohol beverage laws in an equitable, safe and responsible manner. Doing so will protect the independent three-tier system, provide additional consumer choice and convenience and allow Oklahoma craft beer brewers to expand their markets. The alcohol modernization process is complicated, and many stakeholders, including BDO, have participated for many months in complex discussions. SJR 68 is a broad-based resolution that will accomplish the type of responsible alcohol modernization Oklahomans have stated they desire.” 

 -- Brett Robinson, president of the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma

"The Oklahoma Senate today passed SJR68 by Senator Clark Jolley; a bill that would allow strong beer and wine into thousands of new outlets while putting hundreds of locally-owned shops out of business, increasing strong alcohol access to teens and putting enforcement of alcohol laws solely on the already overburdened backs of local police and sheriff's departments. The bill would also allow Anheuser-Busch to continue operating in their current model here in Oklahoma and concentrate beer, wine and spirits sales into a few hands through a quasi-franchise system that was put in place for no other reason than to give big companies further advantages over small, locally-owned businesses. It was a big win for big out-of-state corporations and chain stores who hired scads of lobbyists and threw bags of money at this legislation to try and ensure its passage."

-- Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma

"LOCAL still supports SJR 68 as a legislative vehicle that moves the state towards change. We're happy that the legislature solved the distribution roadblock. While we're not completely satisfied with that solution, that is the nature of political compromise. We hope that we can come together as a single, combined industry and create a fair legislative compromise that does not include the mayhem of various and often punitive petitions. A similar legislative solution to the concerns around retail licensing can be reached, we just have to find it. Everyone involved has legitimate concerns, but if we come together we can make modernization happen this year. LOCAL continues to represent the consumer and is dedicated to ensuring that their desires are paramount in any solution proposed."

-- Kevin Hall, executive director of League of Oklahomans for Change in Alcohol Laws

I think that's a good point to end on tonight. I'll follow up with some of my own reaction in the next couple days.