Opinion: In approval of ‘Beer Bill,’ Kentucky finally rights a wrong

Brewers at StatehouseAll the controversy and scuttlebutt the past few weeks over House Bill 168, aka the “Beer Bill,” bordered on ridiculous. I found myself confused over the entire issue, because, to me, it came down to one simple question: Do we have a three-tier system of alcohol distribution, or don’t we?

If we do, then the obvious action was to block A-B InBev (or any brewery) from being able to distribute its own products in Kentucky. That’s why there is a separation between supplier, distributor and retailer in the first place (thanks, Prohibition). If we don’t have a three-tier system, well, then it’s open season — all Kentucky breweries should be empowered to sell and distribute their products as they see fit. But a long-existing loophole enabled out-of-state brewers to distribute in Kentucky while in-state breweries could not.

So, the Kentucky General Assembly’s approval of HB 168 — which the Senate passed yesterday and will become law once it reaches Gov. Steve Beshear’s desk — was tantamount to lawmakers righting a longstanding wrong. A sort of political “Oops, our bad.” If Kentucky’s breweries were David armed with right versus wrong, then Goliath never had a chance. It just took awhile.

In 1978, Anheuser-Busch opened a distributor in Louisville thanks to the aforementioned loophole. That distributing company has done business here for nearly four decades without a peep of dispute. But when A-B InBev (Anheuser-Busch was acquired by foreign-owned InBev in 2008) bought a distributor in western Kentucky back in the fall of 2014, it sparked a new round of examination.

Why? One simple reason, as far as I’m concerned: the soaring popularity of craft beer. In 1978, beer was beer — nearly every American thought of beer as being fizzy yellow liquid that almost had a flavor. Why? Because thanks to companies like Anheuser-Busch, Schlitz and Miller, that’s what it had become. It was a thoroughly homogenized commodity. So, it’s 1978 and A-B is going to distribute beer outside the three-tier system thanks to a careless loophole in the law? Who cares? Falls City closed that same year, leaving Louisville without any local breweries.

It’s a different world now. Kentucky breweries have the Kentucky Guild of Brewers. They have leverage and support as state-owned and operated businesses. The playing field may not be level, as A-B InBev has a hell of a lot more money and clout than the barely funded KGB, but the Kentucky Guild had one thing on its side going into this standoff: It was right. When A-B InBev bought the distributorship near Owensboro and then Cincinnati brewery Rhinegeist Brewing formed its own distributorship, River Ghost, to take advantage of the same ridiculous loophole, in-state breweries spoke up, and lawmakers finally recognized it was time to close that loophole. It simply wasn’t fair.

The passage of HB 168 wasn’t easy. For one, ranks in the KGB split, with a handful of local breweries taking an “if-we-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em” stance and urging others to withhold support for HB 168 in an attempt to gain self-distribution rights. That notion was not without merit, as more than half of U.S. states have some form of self-distribution for small breweries, including Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee.

But early on in the struggle, Kentucky lawmakers reportedly drew the line on that possibility. And so, the remaining KGB members took up the fight. A-B InBev employed more than a dozen lobbyists in Frankfort and spent upwards of $2 million in an attempt to convince lawmakers and the public that their special privileges should not be taken away. Like a petulant child that had long been getting away with something, the mega-brewing conglomerate stomped its foot and whined about fairness.

The giant spent money on social media (@KYBudFacts) to spread its story. It referred to the in-state brewers as “greedy special interests” intent on killing Kentucky jobs. It insisted that craft beer had still thrived in spite of 40 years of A-B self-distribution in Louisville. It whined that it had had its special privileges for almost four decades and didn’t want to give them up.

But in the end, Kentucky brewers had one important trump card: They were right. The three-tier system was not being upheld. The loophole was unfair, and the brat had to finally start playing by the same rules as all the other kids on the playground. The brewers turned out in force to plead their case to lawmakers. Lawmakers listened and agreed. In this case, right made might.

During a text exchange with KGB executive director John King yesterday while he was in Frankfort, he relayed that one A-B InBev rep commented, “Maybe if we grow beards and wear jeans, we can get meetings with legislators.”

Spoken like a truly entitled brat.

Personally, I’m glad this thing is almost over — well, except for the inevitable lawsuit which A-B InBev is already threatening. Who knows how ugly that might get? But the three-tier system is the three-tier system, and it sounds like Kentucky has made its decision on the long-open loophole: It’s closed for business, at least for now. Perhaps if it ever reopens, it will open for all brewers — not just those from outside Kentucky. That never made any sense to begin with, and Kentucky lawmakers are finally acknowledging the fact.

So, congratulations to Kentucky brewers on this win, which we can hope will be the first of many. New breweries are opening all the time; Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse just made RateBeer’s Top 100 Breweries on Earth list. Good things are ahead.

King also passed along a quote from Against the Grain co-owner Adam Watson that perhaps sums it all up: “This three-year-old group of ragtag brewers just beat the largest brewer in the world.”

Goliath, meet David.

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.

Beer and Loathing in Louisville: Gonzofest gets a companion event

Beer-and-Loathing-291x451Louisville’s own Hunter S. Thompson was a fan of good beer. That’s why Dennie Humphrey thought a local craft beer fest would be another fitting tribute to the gonzo journalist.

And thus, Beer and Loathing in Louisville was born as a sort of halfway-to-Gonzofest companion event to the local annual tribute to Thompson that was created in 2010. Beer and Loathing will take place Nov. 28 at the Ice House.

Gonzofest organizers are working with the Kentucky Guild of Brewers to make the event happen; expect plenty of local and regional craft beer, wine by Old 502 Winery, food, live music by BoogieJuice Funk-n Horn-Band and plenty more. The proceeds will help fund Gonzofest; in addition to honoring Thompson’s legacy with the events, the hope is to ultimately create a statue of Thompson.

Humphrey, Gonzofest co-founder and owner of The Monkey Wrench, believes this can happen by growing Gonzofest.

“I see people getting their picture taken with it,” Humphrey says, adding that he hopes the statue can be placed somewhere of importance, like the waterfront or someplace downtown. “Someplace it can be seen.”

Another attraction at Beer and Loathing will be a Hunter S. Thompson look-alike contest, with the winner getting two free tickets to Gonzofest 2015 as a grand prize. Imagine an Ice House filled with Hunter S. Thompsons — tipsy ones, at that.

Beer and Loathing has another goal of sorts as well, and that is to entice Bill Murray, a friend of Thompson who portrayed the writer in the 1980 film “Where the Buffalo Roam,”  to attend Gonzofest 2015. Mention the wild possibility of Murray showing up to the festival dressed as Thompson, and Humphrey appears to get chills.

“Awww, man,” he says.

“That would be amazing,” adds Lauren Hendricks, who in charge of promoting Beer and Loathing.

Humphrey wants to grow Gonzofest for the obvious reasons, but he also knows it can be huge culturally, which helps the city in addition to honoring Thompson’s legacy. At the same time, he doesn’t want to upset the grassroots nature of the festival and how it began, which basically was just a group of friends deciding to do it.

So, the talk of sponsorships and such must be handled delicately.

“Hunter would not be down with anything like this,” Humphrey says. “We know this.”

At the same time, the festival and its intentions have outgrown its previously small environs: “It’s way bigger than The Monkey Wrench,” Humphrey says. “I don’t mind my name being related to it, but it’s way bigger than this little spot.”

With assists from the city and the Louisville Downtown Development Corp., Gonzofest looks poised to see more growth. Beer and Loathing is a step in that direction. At the 2015 event, Humphrey hopes a rendering of a Thompson statue — possibly with fist raised and a typewriter under one arm — can be unveiled. And hey, maybe Bill Murray will even show up.

Meantime, we have one more way to honor the father of gonzo journalism and  another reason to drink local beer.

“We’re behind any event that helps promote Kentucky beer,” says John King, executive director of the Kentucky Guild of Brewers. “And this particular event is unique.”

Beer and Loathing in Louisville will run from 5-8 p.m. on Nov. 28 at the Ice House. General admission tickets are $45. VIP tickets are $75 and include 4 p.m. entry, special beer tastings, food vouchers and a VIP lounge. Designated driver tickets are $10 and included unlimited non-alcoholic drinks. The Monkey Wrench will host an official after-party featuring the music of Johnny Berry.

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.

West Sixth Christmas Ale in Cans Debuts Dec. 2

louisville beer - west sixthWest Sixth Brewing Company will release its West Sixth Christmas Ale on Dec. 2, and the canning begins tomorrow. Yep, Christmas Ale in cans. I do love West Sixth.

Anyway, here’s the announcement, which speaks for itself:

We’ve got some exciting news today, and we wanted you to be the first to know: We’re releasing our first ever seasonal beer in a can – the West Sixth Christmas Ale!

This beer is a dark spiced ale with the aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg.  Weighing it a 9% ABV, it has a nice backbone that will hold up to the chilliest of nights.  This is our slightly darker taste on a holiday beer, and will be perfect for evenings by the fire!

We’re canning the beer tomorrow, and will be releasing the beer at 3pm on December 2nd at the taproom (the Monday after Thanksgiving).  It will also be available in limited quantities at retailers throughout Kentucky.  We’re only going to make 500-600 total cases of this beer, so we expect it to sell out quickly!  It will also be available on draft in the taproom starting that day.

This is our first time ever doing a seasonal in cans — it’s also the first Christmas Ale canned and distributed in Kentucky.  Because of the challenges with doing small runs of cans, we’ve had to figure out a different sort of process to label the cans and can the beer.  It’s been a fun adventure and we can’t wait to share the results with you.

Keep an eye on our Facebook page and website for more details.

-Ben, Brady, Joe and Robin
Your friends at West Sixth

Rooster Brew Coming Spring 2014 to Paris, Ky.

lexington beer - rooster brewThis isn’t exactly “news” (as it isn’t exactly new), but we haven’t reported it yet, so here goes: the Kentucky/Lexington beer will grow again soon, as Rooster Brew expects to open in Paris, Ky., in spring of 2014.

Via tweet, “Rooster Brew will be a local tap room and nano brewery (2 BBL). We envision 10 taps with 6 of them our beer and the remaining regionally produced craft beer.”

There are a couple of pics of what presumably are the unfinished space on Twitter and on the Rooster Brew Facebook page.

According to a progress log on the Facebook page, Rooster was going to open in a different location, but it was changed due to some regulatory red tape and other factors.

A lot of Lexingtonians and beyond will be interested in visiting the space at 609 Main Street in Paris once Rooster Brew opens. Here’s wishing them good luck and good brewing.