The Thirsty Beagle: Tap Oklahoma steering clear of beer distribution fight?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Tap Oklahoma steering clear of beer distribution fight?

I brought you some reaction earlier this week from the group Oklahomans for Modern Laws, which filed an initiative petition last week to repeal and replace a portion of the Oklahoma constitution dealing with alcohol.

OFML is just one of the groups represented at the state Capitol as numerous groups attempt to negotiate language to re-write our alcohol laws.

Another group is Tap Oklahoma, which is organized by the group Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom and is working on behalf of entities like Walmart and the state's larger grocery and convenience stores.

I recently interviewed Tap Oklahoma to ask them about OFML's initiative petition, and about their plans going forward.

Their responses came from spokeswoman Gwendolyn Caldwell, an Oklahoma City lobbyist and former senior vice president of government affairs at the State Chamber of Oklahoma.

On whether they plan to file their own initiative petition:

"At this time, Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom is exploring the option of filing our own petition; however, our top priority is a legislative solution. We believe a legislative solution provides the best opportunity for all interested parties to benefit."

On their reaction to the OFML petition:

"The Oklahomans for Modern Laws petition is a step in the right direction. Our sole interest is giving consumers the choices and convenience they want. We want to see a handful of changes accomplish this: Allow the sale of regular-strength beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores and provide more opportunities for Oklahomans to purchase local craft brews and local wines."

More reaction:

"We're still reviewing the OFML petition but believe it has created a healthy discussion. However, there may be unintended consequences in their petition. Specifically, we may need more clarification so local craft brewers with products exceeding 8.99% ABV do not inadvertently fall under a distiller's license requirement. We want to be certain their opportunity to operate taprooms is not infringed."

I thought this was an interesting point, and asked for an elaboration on the distiller's license angle. As it turns out, at least one state craft brewer has raised the concern that OFML's petition changes the legal definition of any beer in excess of 8.99% to a spirit. If such wording was allowed to slide through, it could unintentionally force an additional level of licensing on brewers making beers of 9% ABV and above. Clearly, all nuances in the wording of any petition or legislation need to be scrutinized.

Moving on, we covered one additional interesting point. Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom said they are not highly interested in matters involving distribution.

"It's our understanding there are current negotiations ongoing on how products are distributed. This is not a focus of (Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom). Our primary focus is to advocate for more consumer choice and convenience."

That was a really interesting comment, because I did not specifically ask about distribution -- they offered it up when asked if they had anything else they wanted to share. We have to remember that there are two parties involved here that are intensely interested in the issue of distribution: Anheuser Busch (Cold Beer Now OK) and the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma (primarily Miller/Coors).

It seems to point to Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom (Walmart) distancing itself from what could end up being a truly bitter fight.

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