The Thirsty Beagle: April 2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Patriarch plans week-long anniversary party

It kinda feels like The Patriarch has been around for a long time -- which is a good thing for them.

After all, you're doing something right if you can open up shop and quickly become ingrained in the city's craft beer landscape.

Truth is, the old house in Edmond has been a craft beer bar for less than year -- but the end of that first year is fast approaching, and The Patriarch is getting ready to celebrate.

In fact, they'll celebrate with a whole week of anniversary events scheduled for May 10-14 and set to highlight at least nine different Oklahoma brewers. From their FB page:

"The theme of the week will be flight nights with each individual brewery offering up one-off beers and stuff from our cellar."

Here's a preliminary schedule of breweries:

-May 10 at 6 p.m.: Iron Monk
-May 11 at 6:30 p.m.: 405 Brewing
-May 12 at 6 p.m.: COOP; and at 8 p.m.: Elk Valley
-May 13 at 6 p.m.: Roughtail; and at 8 p.m.: Anthem
-May 14 at 5 p.m.: Marshall; and at 6:30 p.m.: Prairie; and at 8 p.m.: Dead Armadillo.

What kind of beers should you expect? Here's a preliminary list for that:

-Iron Monk: Exit 174 Rye Pale Ale
-405: FDR, ESP
-COOP: 2015 Territorial Reserve Coconut, 2015 Territorial Reserve Coffee, Patriarch Anniversary Black IPA (!)
-Elk Valley: Fruited Schank, Dry-Hopped Le Ferme, Fruited Le Ferme
-Rougthail: 3rd Anniversary, ERWO, East Coast-style IPA
-Anthem: 2015 Bourbon Barrel Uroboros, 2016 Bourbon Barrel Uroboros, 2016 Brandy Barrel Uroboros
-Marshall: 2015 Black Dolphin, 2016 Black Dolphin, 2016 Black Dolphin (surprise variant)
-Dead Armadillo: Two different single-hop IPAs

More info is being added to the event FB page, so be sure to check that out, and also stay tuned for updates on glassware and merchandise.

Should be a good week!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Oak & Ore set to break out Randall at Omnipollo event

Big news! Oak & Ore now has a Randall, and they'll use it for the first time this Wednesday during an intriguing Omnipollo tap invasion night.

Festivities are set to kick off at 6 p.m. For the inaugural Randall, they will infuse Fatamorgana double IPA with blueberries, raspberries and rosemary.

They'll also tap Bianca Mango Lassi Gose, Abrahadabra IPA and Symzonia Imperial Stout.

Sounds like a very interesting night, indeed. More info is available on the FB event page.

Pints and Pins

-McNellie's-Tulsa has announced an Avery beer dinner at 7 p.m. May 19. More details right here.

-Marshall Brewing has a big event planned for 5 p.m. today (Tuesday) at The Fur Shop. They'll offer up a side-by-side comparison of 2015 and 2016 Black Dolphin Stout. A portion of proceeds from the night will benefit LOCAL.

-Here is The Patriarch's tap lineup for the week.

-The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is hosting an Anthem Brewing beer dinner at May 18. More info available here.

-Speaking of Anthem, every Monday, they update their FB page with a list of taproom info for the week. It's very informative.

-Learn to Brew in Moore is hosting a Basic Brew Class at 3 p.m. Saturday. Call 793-2337 to reserve a spot.

-Both Pub W locations are holding Roughtail Everything Rhymes with Orange pint nights on Thursday. Get your fill at 6 p.m.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Legislative update: Action on SJR 68, SB 383 and SB 424

Another day at the Legislature, and another day of activity on Oklahoma's three major alcohol reform measures.

Here's a quick recap:

Senate Joint Resolution 68: Two matching House amendments were floated Wednesday. They both would require that anyone selling alcohol above 3.2% ABW be at least 21 years old. That means there are now four House amendments proposed for SJR 68. On Tuesday, two other amendments were proposed; one that would require those dealing with alcohol to take training on responsible serving and another that would allow liquor stores to sell an unlimited amount of non-alcohol items.

The full House is expected to vote on SJR 68 on Thursday morning, but with the amendments proposed, the measure will need to go back to the Senate, which could then accept or reject the amendments. I have also heard that while the House will vote on SJR 68, it's likely another House amendment will be introduced Thursday -- to strike the measure's title.

That move would require the measure to be returned to committee to have the title restored. It would then need to be returned to the House for another vote. That ultimate vote could be drawn out and not held for several weeks. In fact, it's not unusual for either chamber of the Legislature to hold up an important measure in case it needs a bargaining chip or a little leverage to get something considered or passed by the other chamber sometime later in the session.

The Oklahoman's lead editorial this morning actually summed up this issue nicely.

So, as it appears now, there's a chance we won't know a final outcome of SJR 68 getting or not getting on the election ballot for at least a couple weeks. Of course, things can change fast at the Capitol, so stay tuned.

Senate Bills 383 and 424: Both of these bills on Wednesday were assigned to the House Committee on Alcohol, Tobacco and Controlled Substances. It shows the bills are working their way through the process and that perhaps we're getting closer to seeing the actual and full language for each one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Will SJR 68 increase alcohol prices?

When Budweiser didn't like Senate Joint Resolution 68, one of its biggest arguments was that the measure would drive up beer prices.

Most everyone dismissed that claim as a scare tactic, and Anheuser-Busch never really laid out any rationale as to how SJR 68 would drive drink prices up.

Once SJR 68 was amended to allow Anheuser-Busch to keep its distributorships (temporarily, at least) the mega-brewer got on board and supported the measure.

That left a group including the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Restaurant Association and a collection of small alcohol distributors as the opposing side to SJR 68.

Of those entities, the RLAO has been the most vocal, and one of their points has been that SJR 68 would drive up prices. Unlike A-B, however, the RLAO actually forwarded a theory as to why prices would climb.

Their argument, which they conveniently were kind enough to re-hash on their Facebook page on Monday, goes like this:

"SJR 68 changes the wholesale liquor distribution system and will require liquor stores to purchase the most popular spirits and wines from only a single wholesaler. Currently, liquor stores can buy Jack Daniels, for example, from any one of seven different state wholesalers, all of whom compete against each other on price. SJR 68 will allow the producers of Jack Daniels to designate ONE wholesaler in the state for this product. That's the correct definition of a monopoly: the excessive control of the supply of a commodity. Consumers will pay for this exclusivity in higher prices."

To take it a step further, if Distributor A knows they're the only person selling Jack Daniels in the state, they'll set the price at whatever they want -- and set it higher -- because nobody can undercut them and sell it for less.

So, is that right?

Over the past several weeks, I've spoken to brewers, bar owners, small distributors, big distributors, non-resident sellers, liquor store owners, lobbyists, legislators and consumers. I've tried to get a cross section of opinions on what SJR 68 means for all these different groups.

I can tell you that the general consensus from the people I've talked to is that SJR 68 will not increase alcohol prices. I'm going to present some arguments, and they're based off things I picked up from all these people.

For starters, the RLAO is correct in saying that SJR 68 will drastically change the state's distribution model. One of the biggest differences will be for alcoholic beverages not produced in Oklahoma.

Under the current model, an out-of-state manufacturer (Tier 1) must sell its products to an in-state broker, also known as a non-resident seller (Tier 2). The non-resident seller then sells the product to a distributor, also known as a wholesaler (Tier 3). The wholesaler then sells to a retailer (Tier 4).

When you hear people talk about the four-tier system, that's what that is. SJR 68 would eliminate the non-resident seller tier, moving Oklahoma to a three-tier system -- manufacturer to distributor to retailer.

The presence of the four-tier system has long been acknowledged as a reason why brewers like Stone and New Belgium won't begin sales in Oklahoma.

As far as price goes, there is inherent logic in the idea that removing one tier -- and thus removing one level of price mark-ups -- will actually allow retailers to charge less.

So what about product exclusivity? This is a more nuanced argument, and I think it's explained best with a common-sense example. Let's continue to use the Jack Daniels example.

Let's say Distributor A has the rights to Jack Daniels, and Distributor B has the rights to Crown Royal.

Distributor A could theoretically charge a premium for Jack. But Distributor B could look at what Distributor A was doing, and decide to charge less for Crown Royal. The trickle-down effect would be that retailers would be forced to sell Jack Daniels for more than what they would sell Crown Royal for.

What will consumers do in that situation? They'll probably just buy Crown Royal. With Jack Daniels languishing on the shelves, Distributor A will have to explain to Jack Daniels why their product isn't selling in Oklahoma. That may anger Jack Daniels and eventually force them to take their business somewhere else.

OK, so what if Distributor B sees what Distributor A is doing and also raises the price of Crown Royal? Now the consumer is screwed, right? Perhaps not.

In all this debate, I heard someone make the most simple yet most eloquent point. In the end, the consumer will decide what prices will be. If consumers can afford a cost and want to spend their money, they will. If prices are too high, consumers won't spend.

Nobody is obligated to pay anything for Jack Daniels or Crown Royal or wine or craft beer or anything. Consumers will pay what they feel they can afford to pay. They can speak with their wallet. Every single tier in the system recognizes -- or should recognize -- this fact.

The consumer will tell you where your prices should be. Now, I say all this while fully acknowledging I'm not a trained economist. But what I do know is that business doesn't work out for any tier in the system if products aren't selling. It figures to be in the best interest of everyone to keep prices regulated to ensure products move.

So there you have two main arguments why SJR 68 will not drive prices up: Less tiers mean less mark-ups, and all of the tiers know that if prices are too high, they won't sell anything.

I'm sure you can make counter arguments or shoot holes in the reasoning, but these points make sense to me, and to a lot of industry people out there.

On the flip-side, one argument I have heard already from more than one liquor store owner is that when they lose a big chunk of wine sales to grocery stores -- and it seems plausible that that will happen -- they'll have to raise prices to off-set the wine revenue losses.

That's a legitimate concern, but I've talked to one liquor store owner who said he doesn't actually think that will happen. It's a roundabout theory, and not one all liquor store owners would want to hear, but it goes like this:

Some liquor stores depend heavily on the sale of low-price wines -- your Barefoots of the world. That's the exact type of wine that will end up in grocery stores. You can see the problem here, and it will in fact drive some liquor stores out of business. (The ins and outs of exactly how many stores could be shuttered is a topic for another day.)

The liquor stores that stay in business -- the bigger ones, with good selection and thoughtful customer service -- however, will still have one thing that the grocery stores don't have: Liquor. Not only can you not get liquor at the grocery store, you also cannot get it at the liquor store that went out of business that you used to go to. The liquor stores that stay in business now pick up a bunch of liquor business they didn't have before, allowing them to keep prices on an even keel.

Again, that's not just my theory -- that came from a reputable liquor store owner -- but it makes sense to me.

I share that mainly to reiterate that there are a lot of people who know a lot more about the alcohol industry than I do who feel that SJR 68 will not drive prices up. I'm just sharing what I've learned.

I encourage everyone to establish their own beliefs on this.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

House seeks change in liquor store proposal in SJR 68

I mentioned on Facebook late Monday night that Senate Joint Resolution 68 was on the House calendar for Tuesday, and the House did indeed take some action on the alcohol reform measure on Tuesday.

Two amendments were proposed for the bill.

The first amendment, by Rep. Todd Russ, would insert language that would require those serving, selling, preparing, dispensing or otherwise delivering alcohol to patrons of a licensed establishment, or those managing such people, to have completed a responsible alcoholic beverage server training program.

Where that amendment was slightly mundane, although certainly not unimportant, the second amendment was very interesting.

That amendment, by Rep. Tommy Hardin, would lift any restrictions on sales of non-alcohol items by liquor stores. The amendment would delete from the bill the 20 percent cap in place in the original language.

That would appear to be a significant win for liquor stores, who have argued that they have been on the short end of most of the language in SJR 68.

Speaking of SJR 68, I've been doing some light reading on the measure, and came across a handy-dandy explainer that I thought I would pass your way. After all, SJR 68 is on the House calendar yet again on Wednesday.

That means by day's end, it could be on its way to the November election ballot.

So let's break it down, because there's a lot more to SJR 68 than just wine in grocery stores and cold beer in liquor stores.

SJR 68 would ask the people to vote on amending the Oklahoma constitution to repeal Article 28 and to add a new article, 28A. Article 28A contains 10 sections:

Section 1: Provides that all beverages that contain alcohol, unless otherwise defined, are to be considered alcoholic beverages and are to be governed by this Article;

Section 2: Directs the Legislature to enact laws providing for the regulation, control, licensing and taxation of the manufacture, sale, distribution, possession, transportation and consumption of alcoholic beverages; prohibits common ownership between the manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing tiers; prohibits a manufacturer, except a brewer, from selling beverages unless the sales occur through an Oklahoma wholesaler; allows winemakers to sell to any licensed wholesaler. (This is the part that says the Legislature may later try to force Anheuser-Busch to sell off its distributorships.)

Section 3: Allows the Legislature to establish licenses for the sale of alcoholic beverages to consumers for off-premises consumption. (Like retail spirits licenses, retail wine licenses, etc. This is the part that most likely troubles the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma the most.)

Section 4: Provides qualifications for licensure.

Section 5: Prohibits a licensee from furnishing any alcoholic beverage to a minor, person who has been adjudged insane, or to any person who is intoxicated.

Section 6: Directs the Legislature to establish days on which alcoholic beverages may be sold or served to consumers.

Section 7: Provides that the retail sale of alcoholic beverages are subject to sales tax.

Section 8: Prohibits the government or political subdivisions from engaging in any phase of the alcoholic beverage business.

Section 9: Authorizes incorporated cities and towns to levy an occupation tax for the manufacture, distribution or sale of alcoholic beverages.

Section 10: Establishes effective dates. (October 2018, in case you hadn't heard.)

If you don't read or understand anything else, you should try to read and understand Sections 2 and 3. That's where most of the meat of the measure is located. You can read the bill, minus Tuesday's amendments, right here.

Again, the measure is on the House calendar for Wednesday. It's possible we could see more amendments, or we could see a straight vote to send it to the ballot.

Since things seem to be really heating up, I'll post another blog in the morning. I've spent the past couple weeks talking to a lot of people in the industry about SJR 68. I think their opinions can answer a lot of questions about the measure. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 15, 2016

SB 424 may be most important bill

Don't call it a comeback, but Senate Bill 424 may just end up being the most important piece of alcohol legislation this session.

At least as far as craft breweries are concerned.

SB 424, if you haven't been following along, contains the one thing that Oklahoma's craft brewers -- and would-be craft brewers -- want probably more than anything else: Language that would allow them to sell full-strength beer by the glass at their brewery.

I blogged several weeks ago that SB 424 may be the key bill to watch as we move forward and seek the craft beer holy grail -- on-premise sales by the glass. In short order, however, I learned that the key elements in SB 424 would likely be included in Senate Bill 383.

At that time, I believed SB 424 to be a dead bill, for all intents and purposes. I even posted an update on my blog post and on Facebook saying that we probably should forget about SB 424.

Now, it appears things have changed.

There is at least the hint of action concerning SB 424. On Tuesday, seven state senators were named as Senate conferees on the bill -- essentially meaning they were named as a committee that would look at the bill and possibly change or amend it.

Now, that doesn't mean in and of itself that SB 424 will be passed this session. Or at all. But it does at least mean it's clearly not dead at this point.

So, why would SB 424 be so important anyway? It's really simple economics.

Say a brewer wants to sell a four-pack of 12-ounce cans. And let's say that four-pack will end up costing like $8 at the liquor store. A brewer doesn't sell the beer to the distributor for $8. He must sell it for like $6 (I'm just making up numbers here, but the illustration works). Then the distributor sells the beer to the retailer for $7, then the retailer to you for $8. So really, in this example, the brewer is making only $1.50 per can on that transaction.

Again, these are rough numbers, but we know that by the glass, a brewer could sell 12 ounces of beer for anywhere from $4 to $8, depending on the beer. It's not hard to see how a brewer could make three, four or five times more money selling beer by the glass at the brewery.

All the sudden, the idea of being a brewer becomes a significantly more profitable venture. For the existing craft brewers, that profit would be turned into expansion, more production and more jobs, almost assuredly.

It's not hard to imagine that another outcome would be a boom of brick-and-mortar commercial brewers, micro-breweries and brew pubs. I don't think it's unrealistic to think that two or three breweries/brew pubs would open in short order in each of Oklahoma City's districts.

You'd be talking about a huge amount of construction, goods and services, jobs and sales taxes. Not to mention beer tourism, if Oklahoma City were to gain steam as a thriving craft beer destination.

This all sounds pretty craft-beer-Utopic, but I'm telling you, it's not all that far-fetched. I firmly believe this would be the outcome of the passage of SB 424 and its provisions for on-premise sales and consumption. The atmosphere is just right for this type of thing in Oklahoma City, especially.

So will SB 424 be passed?

It's not a sure thing, but I've talked to some key players at the Capitol who say they want to get it passed this session. We know that anything included in Senate Joint Resolution 68 -- should it make it onto the ballot and be passed by voters -- won't go into effect until 2018. (By the way, we should know by the end of next week if SJR 68 will make it through the House.)

And I expect that SB 383 will be a bear -- a complete rewrite of our alcohol statutes and probably north of 200 pages. With that level of complexity, there's no guarantee it gets passed this year (although if SJR 68 makes it, there's no doubt SB 383 will eventually be updated and passed prior to SJR 68's enactment). Thus you see the risk of rolling SB 424 into SB 383.

Point being, my understanding is there's at least some sentiment growing at the Capitol to pass SB 424 on its own so that craft brewers don't have to wait until 2018 or depend on SB 383 to be passed to get on-premise sales/consumption.

You might say, "But I've heard both SB 383 and SB 424 need SJR 68 to change the constitution first before they can work?" I've been operating under that assumption myself. However, I've since learned that there are some at the Capitol who believe the opposite, that SB 424 can stand on its own.

You may also say, "But I heard people last year say that SB 424 was just flat-out unconstitutional?" Yes, people said that. But not everyone agrees with that. And even if that were true, it doesn't mean the Legislature wouldn't still try to pass it. After all, the idea that a bill may be unconstitutional has historically not proven to be a significant deterrent for the Oklahoma Legislature. I'm not saying that's good or bad. I'm just sayin'.

So, things will get hot and heavy next week at the Capitol, with a possible House vote on SJR 68 and a possible introduction of the new language of SB 383.

But let's also keep our eyes on SB 424.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Iron Monk set to debut new release, expand capacity

If you've ever driven into Stillwater from Interstate 35, than the newest beer from Iron Monk Brewing Co. may just find a special place in your heart.

The brewery is set to debut its latest -- Exit 174 Rye Pale Ale -- on Saturday at the Land Run Beer Fest in Enid.

(Sidebar: If we're having a beer festival in Enid, doesn't that mean we've come a loooong way with the Oklahoma beer scene?)

Iron Monk describes the 5.4% ABV beer as the "first Oklahoma grown, malted, packaged and brewed rye beer."
The rye was "grown by producers around Ames, Oklahoma, malted by Blacklands Malt, packaged by 46 Grain Company and of course brewed by us," said Mark Waits, brand ambassador for Iron Monk.

Exit 174 is due in kegs initially, beginning as early as next week.

And there's more news coming down the line from Iron Monk. The brewery is expecting to take delivery in about a month of two 70-barrel fermenters, which they will pair with their existing brewhouse.

Waits said that equipment addition will produce a dramatic increase in Iron Monk's production capacity.

Of course, if you know commercial brewing, fermenter space is a key consideration. You can boil up as much wort as you want -- it only takes a few hours to turn out a batch -- but you have to have somewhere to let it ferment, and that takes several days.

Lack of fermenter capacity will grind brewing to a halt, so it'll be exciting to see what Iron Monk will be able to do with its new tanks.

Pints and Pins

-Pub W-Memorial Road is holding a Nebraska Brewing Co. tap takeover at 6 p.m. today (April 14) featuring Sexy Betty, Black Betty, Fathead and Melange a Trois.

-McNellie's OKC is hosting another Beer University session -- Hop School -- on Tuesday, April 19. The cost is $25, and you can email to RSVP.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

TapWerks, Goose Island plan OKC events

TapWerks is hitting you with a 2-for-1 on Thursday night: Stop by the bar once and attend two exciting events.

(Man, I should be in PR, or something.)

First, at 6 p.m., TapWerks is planning a release party for Roughtail Brewing Co.'s new IPA, Everything Rhymes with Orange.

I wrote about that beer right here. The skinny: Roughtail has turned its highly popular limited release Adaptation No. 3 into a year-round beer.

You can try the beer on draft at TapWerks, and then stick around for 8 p.m., when team members from Goose Island roll through OKC on their Migration Week promotion.

They'll be pouring BCBS, Lolita, Green Line and other offerings and chatting about Goose Island and their beers.

And that's not your only chance to meet up with the Goose Island folks. They'll also make stops at a pair of OKC liquor stores.

They'll be at Sean's Wine and Spirits, 6969 Northwest Expressway, from 5 to 6 p.m. today to sample some of their beer.

And then the Goose Island team will visit Broadway Wine Merchants, 824 N Broadway Ave., for a sour beer and cupcake pairing. That event is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, right before the TapWerks stop.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Choc acquires McAlester production site, eyes expansion

Big happenings out of Krebs this week as a news report surfaced detailing a large-scale expansion plan for Choc.

The McAlester News-Capital reported that Choc -- Krebs Brewing Co., actually -- recently rented a 52,000-square-foot production facility at a McAlester industrial park, with plans to relocate the bulk of its production to the new space.

Choc President Zach Prichard said the move will allow the company to increase output by five or six times current production levels.

This will make Choc the undisputed king of production size in Oklahoma, and it's not the first time the brewery has undertaken a significant production bump. In 2013, Choc purchased a 50-barrel brewing system from Sweetwater Brewing. That move allowed Choc to produce up to 6,200 gallons of beer at a time. Just doing the quick math, you can see this new plan will jump that number well above 30,000 gallons at a time, based on Prichard's estimates.

One really interesting nugget from the story was that Choc employed four people full-time in 2013, and now has nearly 30 people on its payroll. Prichard told the newspaper that the increase in production space could allow them to double their workforce.

"The best option for our business is to move into this existing building in McAlester," Prichard told the newspaper. "I think it's a really good move to make and will benefit this community -- McAlester, Krebs and the surrounding area.

"The existing facility will still be used. Making that transition from Krebs to McAlester, while maintaining that Krebs heritage, seemed like an easy move."

Some other takeaways:

-Choc produces about 95 percent of Prairie Artisan Ales' beer.
-The new production facility won't come online until spring 2017.
-Choc will put an initial investment of $4 million into the building.
-The deal includes an option to buy the building.
-The city of McAlester is on board and actively trying to help Choc develop the new facility into a social/community/tourist destination through a community development grant.

You can read the full story here.

Pints and Pins

-Saints is hosting a Prairie Tap Takeover on Thursday night featuring free glassware and special release beers.

-Here's your tap lineup for this week at The Partiarch.

Monday, April 11, 2016

LOCAL founder leaves group

Last week was fun. I wrote up a blog post on Thursday that I'm pretty sure has gotten me blacklisted from all the state's good liquor stores.

Good thing I know how to homebrew and make my own wine. Seriously though, the blog generated a lot of reaction, both in the form of support and criticism. I'll get to that in a minute.

The discussion about the post also led to a revelation: the founder of League of Oklahomans for Change in Alcohol Laws, Kevin Hall, is no longer a member of the group.

Hall helped found LOCAL in the summer of 2014 to help advocate for updates to Oklahoma's alcohol laws.

Recently, Hall took a job in the craft beer industry in Oklahoma, and felt it necessary to step away from his role in leading LOCAL.

He shared this statement on my Facebook page:

"I love LOCAL. It is near and dear to my heart. I helped start it because I saw what led to change in other states. In Alabama or North Carolina or Texas, it was consumer led groups that pushed for change that helped to shape laws that consumers wanted. As a consumer group, it should be led by consumers and LOCAL should be able to speak the consumer's voice openly and honestly. I am no longer just a consumer. I took a job in the craft beer industry to help it grow in another way. I was holding LOCAL back, in all honesty. It's now time for LOCAL to speak again with its authentic consumer voice, which is what it was intended to be all along. I'll give them my two cents, but they should advocate for what the consumer wants."

So where does LOCAL go from here? I spoke to one of the group's leaders last week, and he said they are working on setting up a new leadership structure, and that they expect to make an announcement in the near future. I will share that information when I hear it.

Blog reaction

So, about that blog post. I think it struck a nerve on both sides -- those for Senate Joint Resolution 68 and those against it. People said they appreciated that I was delving into items a little deeper than they had heard before.

Several liquor store owners let me know they did not appreciate the post, and felt it was an attack. Like I said to one, I didn't sit down to write that post with the intention to go after any particular liquor store owner. In fact, I think people need to cut the liquor store owners some slack. Some of them are particularly impassioned about SJR 68 because they see it as an attack on their business and families.

I'm not saying I agree with that view 100 percent. But I am saying that I understand that is the way some of them feel, and I think that explains why they are so openly emotional about the issue.

One of the liquor store owners who contacted me was Bryan Kerr, president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma. He said he wanted to address the points I had raised in the post, and sent me a statement, which I'll share here verbatim:

Regarding the concerns you expressed in your article about the inconsistencies in our messaging, I can see how you reached your conclusions. However, they were not entirely fair to me and I believe context will provide some illumination as to why. You said, “I don't like how one of the RLAO's main arguments is that SJR 68 would throw the state's distribution system out of kilter, and the reason I don't like that is because when RLAO introduced its petition, RLAO President Bryan Kerr told me they weren't concerned with distribution.” Then you go on to quote me from that post. When we spoke on February 24th about our petition, I was referring specifically to “big beer” distribution. I apologize for not making that clear at the time. We left the language about “big beer” distribution out of our petition because we were unsure which, if either, of the “big beer” guys was the good guy so we punted on that issue. We did, and do, care about Oklahoma breweries and how they are allowed to distribute and included that in our petition. I also explained to you the problems that SJR68 created with the wholesale distribution of spirits and wine… allowing just two companies to take control of up to 90% of the market by changing language in the Oklahoma constitution. In our petition, we left the language in the constitution that ensures competition at the wholesale tier since we think that ensures the best price and selection for the Oklahoma consumer. Again, I apologize if you feel I was speaking from both sides of my face but, the RLAO supports keeping spirits and wine distribution as it is. While we agree I could have given a better explanation, I respectfully disagree that my statements could be considered irrational or inconsistent.

As for Senator Bice’s claim that she “WANTED liquor store owners to be able to own more than one license but RLAO demanded (she) not allow it because they didn't want to have specks or total wine come into OK.” She is simply doing what good politicians do best; claiming half the truth is the whole and facing the heat for a bad bill written to add to the profit margins of corporations and chain stores who wield an unfortunate amount of influence at our state capitol. As for the meat of her statement, she’s correct. We did not want to see corporate ownership of spirits licenses and we did not want to allow for a single person to own multiple licenses but that is not inconsistent with our message of local ownership, accountability and sensible reform or even contradictory to limiting the number of licenses grocery stores can obtain. Even if we were allowed to own multiple/unlimited licenses, that still would not allow us to fairly compete in a market that is already dominated by corporate and chain stores who have a presence on nearly every corner, massive buying power and nearly unlimited advertising budgets. These stores have been built up over the last 50+ years; years that we have been restricted to just one license. Besides, if SJR68 passes, most liquor store owners aren’t going to find any value in having a single license much less trying to obtain multiple licenses for a market that is about to be cut in half. So, in my mind, this offer was a ruse; something the senators could come back and use at a later time to say, “See, we tried but they wouldn’t take our help” knowing full well what would happen if we accepted their “generous” offer. For the record, what I actually said to Senator Bice was something like, “Most of our members have no desire to own more than one license. Why not simply loosen the restrictions on what retail package store owners can do now so that we can become our own “Spec’s” or “Total Wine” but the stores will be owned by an Oklahoman?” Allow us to run that model in our stores so that the consumer can have what they want without ceding the entire market to out-of-state corporations who can’t be held accountable and add very little to Oklahoma’s economy. What we got in SJR68 was the hardly explicable “gift” of being able to sell up to 20% of non-alcoholic items in our stores. They claim that they put such a limitation on liquor stores so that we couldn’t become grocery stores that sell liquor but, so what if we did? We’d still have to play by the rules and regulations of a liquor store like limited hours and days of sale, age of employees and proper licensing of premises. And why aren’t grocery and convenience stores held to any such standard? Under SJR68, a convenience store could consist of a single stick of beef jerky and 10,000 square feet of wine.  Does that sound like a bill that is trying not to put small local guy out of business? 

I apologize if I was unclear or inconsistent, that was never my intent. I’ve tried to be as transparent and open about my own personal beliefs and those of the RLAO as possible. I negotiated in good faith with the senators, I met with the suits at Walmart, I sat down with the folks representing convenience stores, I had many meals with Oklahoma wholesalers and beer distributors, spent lots of phone time with Oklahoma brewers, met with Oklahoma wineries and worked countless hours devising a proposal that gave Oklahomans the convenience they desired without sacrificing local businesses and public safety in the bargain. I know some people will never believe me or trust what I say but I really am interested in sensible reform to our alcohol laws. Unfortunately, SJR68 does not meet that definition.

So now what?

It's become pretty clear to me at this point that what we really need is a deeper understanding of what SJR 68 is really all about. As it looks right now, that's probably what we're going to end up voting on -- assuming it passes the House and doesn't get challenged in court -- so shouldn't we drill down into the language a bit more? I'd rather form my own opinions on this stuff than let anyone with an interest on either side give me their interpretation. 

Particularly, I'd like to look at the distribution issue, and also at what exactly will be contained in the language of Senate Bill 383.

That will be a very important piece of legislation. When SJR 68 says the legislature shall establish certain things, those things most likely will be contained in 383. That's where we should see language on what days and hours alcohol can be sold, and also on the important issue of on-premise sales for breweries, among other topics. There's a chance we may even see the amended bill as early as this week.

So stay tuned to the blog over the next few days.

Pints and Pins

-Your Monday pint nights at the McNellie's pubs: Bavik Pilsner in OKC; Bridgeport Stumptown Candy IPA at Norman; Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale at Tulsa; and Dead Armadillo Morning Bender at Tulsa-South.

-Roughtail is hosting a brewery yoga session on April 16.

-The COOP brewery yoga class that had been scheduled for April 9 is now set for April 23.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Alcohol reform rhetoric continues to heat up

So Wednesday was an interesting day.

I managed to get lost in at least three 75-comment-Facebook-post black holes discussing alcohol reform, and let me tell you, it put me in the mood to throw around some inflammatory rhetoric. It also left me feeling annoyed in general about how this whole alcohol law reform thing is shaking out at the moment. Pretty much, I'm liable to really just start calling things like I see 'em in this blog post.

First, let me set my opinion aside for a minute. There was the news Wednesday that SJR 68 passed the House Rules Committee on a 6-3 vote. That means the measure now moves on for consideration by the full House. If it's approved there, it will likely make its way onto the November election ballot.

As we move closer to that becoming a reality, we've established some fairly clear divisions here, and those division are really showing up on social media, where the back-and-forth Facebook comments are running wild. You've got most everyone who supports SJR 68 on one side, and a vocal coalition of the state's liquor stores, led by the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, on the other.

Both sides are well entrenched at this point.

On the SJR 68 side, let's be real: This measure is primarily about big business. I'm not saying that to be controversial. I've stated for more than a year now -- even back to when I was blogging at The Oklahoman -- that if we did get alcohol law reform, it would be driven by whoever had the most money. Call me cynical if you want. At that time, I thought it would be driven by Anheuser-Busch and the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma. I hadn't anticipated the role Walmart would play, but they're arguably the most influential player involved at the moment, at least so far as SJR 68 is concerned.

At the same time, SJR 68 is about consumer convenience, too, and it appears it will deliver some of the basic things consumers have always griped about in Oklahoma. Cold beer and wine in liquor stores and full-strength beer and wine in grocery stores, to name two.

The measure, at this point, has been embraced by the craft beer community. It may not be perfect, and several advocates of the measure have admitted as much. But often legislation is not perfect and must reflect compromise. What SJR 68 does do is open the door -- through its companion legislation, Senate Bill 383 -- for what the craft beer community really wants: legitimate on-premise tap rooms at our state's breweries.

As far as the RLAO side is concerned, I've explained a couple times what I don't like about what the RLAO is asking for. Some of it I'll rehash now: I don't like how under the RLAO plan, the three grocery stores closest to my house would not be allowed to sell wine because of the half-mile rule. I don't like how they say that grocery store chains would be able to own up to four wine licenses, when only the first license is guaranteed, and the next three are subject to the chain finding liquor store owners who want to sell their wine license to the chain. (What if nobody wants to sell their license? Only one Walmart store in all of Oklahoma would be allowed to sell wine?)

I don't like how one of the RLAO's main arguments is that SJR 68 would throw the state's distribution system out of kilter, and the reason I don't like that is because when RLAO introduced its petition, RLAO President Bryan Kerr told me they weren't concerned with distribution. From my Feb. 24 blog post:

"I spoke at length on Tuesday night with Bryan Kerr, owner of Moore Liquor and leader of the RLAO, and he said they felt like they wanted to leave those issues up to the Legislature and the state's distribution companies to figure out."

Except apparently that's not what the RLAO feels like. I digress.

For a time, I actually didn't mind the RLAO argument that it wasn't fair to allow liquor store owners to hold only one wine license while grocery and convenience chains could own an unlimited number of wine licenses. Until Wednesday, that is, when I got lost in one of those Facebook-comment marathons I mentioned.

Much to my surprise, state Sen. Stephanie Bice jumped into the conversation. Bice, a co-author of SJR 68 and the primary author of the all-important SB 383, pointed out something that the RLAO has neglected to mention. Apparently, in negotiations over the language of SJR 68, the RLAO was strictly opposed to language that allowed liquor store owners to hold more than one liquor license.

"I WANTED liquor store owners to be able to own more than one license," Bice wrote in one comment. "But RLAO demanded I not allow it because they didn't want to have specks or total wine come into OK."

Seriously?! You can't have it both ways! You can't argue that it's not fair you can only have one wine license when you previously shot down the opportunity to own multiple liquor licenses. At least that's how I feel about it.

For all the things that are good about the RLAO petition -- and there's a lot to like for craft beer in their language -- and for any possible meritorious arguments they can make against SJR 68, it's come to the point for me where I don't feel like I can take them seriously anymore.

Maybe I'm crazy, but I feel like you can't just say whatever you want from day to day with no regard for what you said before. Really, it's just sad. It's sad because -- like I've written here many times -- I really do appreciate and admire the liquor store owners who I deal with. I would hate to see any of them go out of business. I feel like what they need is rational, consistent advocacy. But it appears to me that's not what they're getting.

As much as that sounds like an attack against Kerr, it genuinely is not. It's a criticism of the RLAO's approach more than anything.

When Anheuser-Busch resorted to name-calling and inflammatory tactics, I took them to task. I don't see how it's fair that I don't also point out the RLAO when I see them employing similar tactics.

Truth is, none of the petitions or measures presented for alcohol reform is perfect. They all have flaws and red flags and things that look out for one side over the other.

My opinion: What they're all selling is important, but sometimes how you sell it is important, too.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

House Rules Committee passes SJR 68

The House Rules Committee voted 6-3 Wednesday morning to pass Senate Joint Resolution 68, moving the measure to reform Oklahoma's alcohol law one step closer to appearing on the November ballot.

SJR 68 now advances to debate and consideration by the full House. If it is approved there, it would then find its way to the election ballot, pending any legal challenges or last-minute obstructions.

Two of the most prominent backers of SJR 68, Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom and the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma, both voiced their continued support following Wednesday morning's vote.

"We applaud the House Rules Committee for voting in support of SJR 68 today to increase choices and convenience for consumers," said Tyler Moore, a spokesman for OCF. "This is a significant step forward and is the result of the hard work of many groups.

"The next step is a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives and with passage there, we will be set to vote on modernizing our beer and wine laws in November. Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom is confident voters will express their support for modern alcohol laws."

BDO President Brett Robinson issued this statement:

"The independent members of the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma commend the House Rules Committee for its support of SJR 68, and forwarding the resolution to the full House for consideration," Robinson said. "SJR 68 is a realistic, broad-based alcohol modernization initiative that, if approved by the full House, will make its way to the voters of Oklahoma.

"SJR 68 will modernize Oklahoma's archaic alcohol beverage laws in an equitable, safe and responsible manner. It will also protect the independent three-tier system, provide additional consumer choice and convenience, and allow Oklahoma craft beer brewers to expand their markets."

Anheuser-Busch Sales of Oklahoma also chimed in, with this response from Eric James, senior director of sales and marketing:

"Anheuser-Busch is supportive of modernization and we are pleased to see the majority of the House Rules Committee is too," James said. "Support of SJR 68 is support for consumer choice and economic growth in Oklahoma. Oklahomans want cold, strong beer, available seven days a week at grocery and convenience stores, and this vote is one step closer to making that a reality."

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

SJR 68 due for committee hearing Wednesday

If you love beer and you're looking to get involved in the political process, you have several opportunities this week.

First and foremost, Senate Joint Resolution 68, the measure that would send to the ballot a referendum to reform Oklahoma's alcohol laws, is scheduled to be taken up by a House committee on Wednesday.

The measure is set to be heard by the House Rules Committee, which meets at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in room 512A.

This is a make-or-break committee meeting for SJR 68. It must make it past the Rules Committee by Friday, and Wednesday is the last scheduled meeting of the committee before that time.

The following day, April 7, is known as Repeal Day in Oklahoma. This year it will be the 57th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition in Oklahoma.

A pair of Oklahoma bars will hold special promotions to mark the occasion.

Oak & Ore will hold a Legislator Call to Action and Voter Registration Drive at 5 p.m. Thursday. Here's some info on that event shared by Oak & Ore:

"The Craft Brewers Association of Oklahoma (CBAO) will celebrate at Oak & Ore in Oklahoma City’s Plaza District by holding a Legislator Call To Action and Voter Registration Drive. Legislators from across the state will be invited to mingle and hear from brewery representatives and the public about the need for Oklahoma craft beer law modernization. Oak & Ore will be serving Collaboration for Legislation beer and selling CBAO pint glasses to benefit the association. A voter registration booth will be provided for any unregistered attendees."

Up in Edmond, The Patriarch will also participate in a voter registration drive on Repeal Day and also offer a special for registered voters.

Here's an explanation from their FB page:

"Alcohol law changes will be on the ballot this November - we want to make sure everyone who loves beer is registered and informed about what will be on the ballot! Starting April 7th, in honor of Oklahoma Repeal Day - April 7, 1959, when Oklahoma repealed the prohibition of alcohol - we will be offering $1 off any 'non-intoxicating' 3.2% ABW/4% ABV beer we have on draft! Simply show your voter registration card and you will get in on the deal! In addition, we will have forms on hand for you to fill out and mail in to register in your local district. This is what we mean by #communitythroughbeer - our community is what brings us together!"

Monday, April 4, 2016

Plaza District set for first Oskar Blues pub crawl

Oskar Blues is set to make its debut in Oklahoma this week, and the entire Plaza District is rolling out the welcome mat.

The district will host a four-bar pub crawl on Tuesday, following this route:

-5 p.m. at Empire Slice, serving Mama's Little Yella Pils
-6 p.m. at The Mule, serving Pinner Throwback IPA
-7 p.m. at Saints, serving Old Chub Scotch Ale

At 8 p.m., festivities will shift to Oak & Ore for a beer and music bash featuring five Oskar Blues beers, including the three earlier-mentioned offerings, plus Dale's Pale Ale and IPA.

"It’s really cool to see such a great brewery like Oskar Blues launch in our state,” Oak & Ore owner Micah Andrews said. “They make incredibly good beer, and having them here is just another indicator of how strong the independent craft beer scene is."

Each stop on the crawl will be handing out dual-branded Oskar Blues/Plaza District koozies and Oak & Ore will give away limited-edition Oskar Blues/Oak & Ore glassware with the purchase of any Oskar Blues beer.

Following Tuesday's celebration, the party will move north to The Patriarch on Wednesday, where they will host an Oskar Blues welcome party beginning at 6 p.m.

Pints and Pins

-Pub W Memorial Road is hosting a Founders KBS pint night at 6 p.m. Tuesday -- the first tapping of 2016 KBS in the state.

-Also Tuesday, The Patriarch will tap a limited draft offering of 405 Brewing's FDR. Tickets for the beer and special glassware will be handed out starting at, wait for it, 4:05 p.m., and the beer will be served starting at 6 p.m.

-TapWerks will tap its share of 2016 KBS, and some 2015 KBS to boot, at 2 p.m. on Sunday, with some cool co-branded glassware as well.

-TapWerks will host a session of Beer Yoga at 6 p.m. tonight. Tickets are required and are available here.

-Reminder that The Patriarch is hosting a Nothing's Left Brewing Co. pint night on Thursday night.