The Thirsty Beagle: ABLE buck-passing may be for the best

Monday, August 22, 2016

ABLE buck-passing may be for the best

In case anyone's counting, it's only four days away from Aug. 26 now.

That's the day we're supposed to be able to get full-strength beer by the glass at local small breweries. I mean, if you read Senate Bill 424, you'd think we're supposed to get it.

I feel like I've cited the portion of the bill relevant to craft brewers like 300 times, but following the ABLE Commission's analysis paralysis last week, here we go again.

The bill clearly states licensed brewers are allowed:

"...to sell beer produced by the licensee to consumers twenty-one (21) years of age or older on the premises of the brewery..."

And that:

"Samples and sales may only be distributed or consumed between 10:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m."

What am I missing? Where is the ambiguous language that has stupefied the ABLE Commission? Why is it that one of the bill's co-authors can explicitly tell the ABLE Commission that the intent of the bill is to allow on-premise consumption, yet commission leaders can still say the intent isn't clear?

It's in plain English: Samples and sales may be distributed or consumed between 10:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. 

Samples AND sales. Distributed OR CONSUMED. It's right there in the language of the bill.

As ABLE was unable to either read or comprehend what appears to be plain language, the matter now rests in the hands of the state's attorney general, tasked by ABLE with interpreting the bill. The AG's office stated on Friday that they would expedite review of the bill and provide an interpretation prior to the go-live date on Friday. 

One way or another, we'll find something out in the next couple days. There are several options in terms of where this goes from here.

1. AG says brewers can sell by the glass, everyone is happy and Oklahoma enters a period of rapid commercial/retail/tourism expansion and development.

2. AG says no sales by the glass. Brewers can still sell by the package (bottles, cans, growlers) and that leads to...

3. Lawmakers use the 2017 legislative session to amend SB 424 and make it wholly unambiguous. Full-strength sales by the glass are allowed sometime next spring/summer, or...

4. Voters approve State Question 792 in November, activating Senate Bill 383, eliminating the state's dual-strength system and putting brewery pint sales into effect in October 2018.

So, do I think we'll get there one way or another, one day or another? Yes. But it shouldn't be this hard.

But let's talk about ABLE a little bit more. That agency has really put Oklahoma's craft brewers through the ringer here.

On July 24, I blogged that ABLE had expressed concern about the wording of the bill to the state's craft brewers. As several brewers told me, there was concern that ABLE believed sales by the glass were not authorized by SB 424. ABLE and the brewers were set to discuss the matter at a meeting set for July 25.

The brewers came out of that meeting believing that on-premise consumption would be allowed. In the weeks that followed, brewers began laying out plans for their celebrations of SB 424.

Last week, Marshall Brewing Co. announced formal plans for a big SB 424 bash. Marshall is one of the best -- if not the best -- politically connected breweries in the state. If they felt confident in ABLE's favorable interpretation of SB 424, you would figure it was a done deal.

So when brewers found out last Thursday that ABLE was aiming to deny by-the-glass sales, the mutual feelings in the industry were shock and devastation. Those are not emotions you feel when you're not confident things will go a certain way.

So why did the brewers feel so confident? If ABLE gave them reason to feel confident and then simply pulled the rug out at the proverbial last minute, then shame on the agency.

And for ABLE leadership to say on television last Friday that they had no idea brewers even were interested in on-premise consumption? It defies logic.

After all, the brewers met with ABLE representatives in July to discuss that very issue! What in the heck is going on at the ABLE Commission?

Maybe taking the decision out of their own hands actually is the best course of action.

4 comments:

  1. Time to tear down ABLE and rebuild it from scratch. They are an agency not legislators. Get a clue ABLE! This is the 1920s bs we have been living with, and it's time to get rid of this backward thinking.

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  2. This is precisely what I was saying in the last blog. ABLE told the brewers all is good except for maybe growlers but all else is fine, then all of sudden sale by the glass is a no go a week before the bill takes effect? The thing that comes to my mind is somebody with influence/money doesn't want this to happen.
    I don't know much about ABLE except that they are a pain...how do the officials of ABLE get placed in their positions? I'm assuming the director position isn't an electable position? Who appoints these persons to their positions then? And where do the fines they levee end up? Don't know who besides maybe big beer makers (bmc) have against Oklahoma brewers but it sure seems ABLE has it out for them.

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  3. ABLE is close to losing control in OK and this is a last ditch effort to push their control. It's ABLE's swan song.

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  4. Way to go AG for pulling this one out.

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