Anheuser Busch is doing that thing Anheuser Busch does. This time in South Carolina. It’s what they recently did in Florida. Here, they had some politicians that were either willing to do their bidding or were willing to accept vague and unsupported assertions as fact without asking any logical follow-up questions. In South Carolina, they’ve got their lawyer-lobbyists doing the same.

ABInBev’s attorneys wrote a short letter to South Carolina Senators asking that they “please non-concur”  with house amendments to the bill that was drafted to help open up the craft beer industry in South Carolina and perhaps provide incentive to Stone Brewing to bring jobs and money to South Carolina. Read that letter here: (as posted by Wesley Donehue and BeerOfSC) http://www.scribd.com/doc/224630184/Stone-Bill.

The attorneys begin by noting that “the manner in which the law would be changed would be detrimental to the current three tier system for alcohol distribution.” It is important to realize that they refer to the “current three tier system”. It wouldn’t be detrimental, but it would make changes. The key changes would be to increase the production limit at brewpubs from 2,000 barrels per year to 500,000 barrels per year and would allow for sales to wholesalers and exporters of kegs, cans, and bottles. This way, large breweries can have on-site restaurants for visitors but would not be stopped from growing by having the production limits currently in place. Anyway, the attorneys continue that AB’s “primary concern is that this amendment erodes the current system that works so well.” That one is more honest and furthers their prior worry. Why change things if we’re doing just fine as it is? Again, they don’t try to claim that it would actually cause problems. They essentially take the stance of saying “things are good, come oooooooooon.”

They say next that they were asked to write their letter “to share the following information to provide more background.” Then they provide some vague notes and provide very little relevant background (my comments follow the bullet points).

This amendment erodes the current three tier system for alcohol distribution.

  • It makes changes. But “erodes” might be a good buzz word to sway Senators who hopefully know better.

It picks “winners and losers” in the beer marketplace by singling out a specific entity to which this law would grant a competitive advantage over other brewers, distributors, and even retailers. There are specific regulations and requirements that all brewers, wholesalers, and retailers must comply with under the three tier system. We are happy to provide you with more specifics regarding these items, but for now, the most important thing to note is that each step of the system is heavily regulated and carving out one group the way this amendment proposes to do will create an uneven playing field and give some brewers a competitive advantage over others. Anheuser-Busch’s belief is that everyone should play by the same rules.

  • Oh man. First of all, it doesn’t single out a specific entity. Not sure if they are referring to Stone (which it does not refer to), or to brewpubs as a whole. Either way, brewpubs are not a single entity. The bill would change limits currently in place that hold brewpubs back from natural expansion.

 

  • To claim this picks winners and losers is incredibly disingenuous. It can more validly be argued that the law as currently written picks winners and losers. The current law allows breweries to sell their beer to distributors to be sold to retailers in kegs, cans and bottles. The current law prohibits brewpub permit holders from doing the same. If AB is so interested in making sure EVERYONE is playing by the same rules, this brings things closer to being equal. If AB’s belief is that everyone should play by the same rules, they should be looking to remove these limits on brewpubs and pushing for the same exact laws to apply to brewpubs and breweries, no? What they are literally pushing for is for people to play by different rules.

 

  • They say they would be happy to provide specifics about “regulations and requirements that all brewers, wholesalers, and retailers must comply with under the three tier system”. My guess is that they would just copy and paste the laws that are in place. The Senators can look those up. Simply showing that brewpubs play by these rules, breweries play by those other rules and retailers play by another set of rules doesn’t really do much to prove that they’re looking to ensure everyone plays by the same rules. It would do more of what this letter really seems to do: “sooooo, there are the rules…. We took the time to give them to you…. They can stay the same please?”

The increase in the amount/definition is a primary concern for us because there are already special laws for brewpubs which exempt them from certain requirements, and in the case of this amendment, it is of particular concern because it is taken in conjunction with the other items included in or omitted from this amendment. For example, there are no limits on the amount of beer that may be sold for off-premise consumption. In addition, kegs, bottles, and cans would now be able to be sold to wholesalers with no limit.

  • I like the first sentence because it is a blatant admission that different entities are playing by different rules. It only took until we reached the first sentence of the next paragraph for them to contradict themselves. Other than that, they just repeat what the law change would do. They literally did not explain why it is of such a concern. They just explained what it would do. If there was such a huge concern, I would hope they would be able to do better than that. Mitch Rubin in Florida (executive director of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association) would at least have thrown out a claim that this will cause an increase in drinking and driving. Essentially, they just want the Senators to know… that they can write things?

Also, while we understand there is the issue of potential jobs to think about, we are not sure how a brewpub producing 500,000 barrels a year will employ the 400 people folks seem to be claiming is the case. At Anheuser-Busch’s Williamsburg brewery, they produce 8.5 million barrels of beer per year. While this is far more than the five hundred thousand allowed for brewpubs in the proposed amendment, A-B’s Williamsburg brewery only employs 72 salaried employees. If you include all of the part time employees in the count, the total number of employees is still only around 250. Again, that’s 250 total employees to produce 8.5 million barrels per year. We cannot imagine how 500,000 barrels per year will employ more than 400 people as claimed.

  • Statistics! AB employs about 250 people at their Williamsburg brewery. They throw out the number 72 first for effect but those are full salaried employees. Not everyone is on a full salary and many people who are not make quite a bit more money than those who are. Anyway, there is a pretty large difference between AB’s brewery and Stone’s proposed brewery (besides the fact that AB does indeed brew a lot more beer). STONE WILL ALSO HAVE A RESTAURANT! Restaurants employ cooks, chefs, waiters, servers, etc. etc. The proposed brewery would also bring one of the company stores that are popular in California. More jobs there. I certainly can’t confirm how many jobs Stone’s brewery would bring, but I wouldn’t be silly enough to compare only the size of the operations without considering the other differences between the breweries.

Anheuser-Busch is an advocate for beer period!

  • Oh!

Passing this language via a last minute amendment is just not good public policy.

  • The letter never actually said why.

 

See the Stone Request for Proposal here: http://www.stonebrewing.com/rfp/default-east.asp