You Owe Your Brewers Guild A Drink | Hard Work Behind the Craft Scenes
Chances are, unless you work in a brewery, you’re not particularly aware of your local Brewers Guild. And that’s kind of the point: they’re designed to run in the background, presenting a united voice on behalf of your region or state for all things craft beer. They have conversations with state and federal government on your behalf, so that you can continue buying and selling beer with fair taxes, licensure requirements, and other things you don’t want to have to worry about. There’s one of these nonprofit organizations in all 50 states, with most states having multiple regional guilds too. And every single guild has had its fair share of headaches during the pandemic.
In order for guilds to maintain influence over governmental laws and regulations, they need to meet with lawmakers or hire lobbyists on craft’s behalf. That doesn’t come cheap, and the longstanding approach for generating revenue has been beer festivals, which had generally been a successful approach—until 2020. As revenue dried up during the pandemic, guilds have found themselves stuck with an increase in local breweries needing help, and a decrease in available funds to offer assistance. Shawnee Adelson, Executive Director of the Colorado Brewers Guild (CBG), described it this way: “Especially during the shutdown, there were so many moving pieces about what brewers could and could not do. The CBG quickly became a trusted resource and it was critical that we communicate clearly, effectively and efficiently so that they could make the necessary changes to keep their businesses running. My job changed in that it became critical to communicate to my members on a regular basis.”
Those “necessary changes” looked wildly different from state to state, as breweries tried to figure out how to stay open while their customers were required to stay home. They worked hard to navigate the ever-changing and often-contradictory rules for closures and mask mandates. Some guilds encouraged creativity right off the bat, like Paul Leone, Executive Director of the New York State Brewers Association shares: “The pandemic forced us to be more nimble, more creative, more responsive, and rethink what our responsibilities are to our members and all of the breweries in our state. At the beginning of the pandemic, breweries were allowed to ship beer legally for the first time in New York State, so we pivoted our in-person events to public virtual tasting events over Zoom. We chose breweries that were in high demand to participate to get the craft beer consumers excited to spend $180 for 12 beers and 3 hours with the brewers. Then we took that model to companies and our allied members for private virtual tasting events that reconnected employees, who used to see each other every day, over a few beers and time with the brewers virtually.”
While these pivots have certainly made a big impact on keeping some guilds afloat, the overall impact has been undeniably severe — and it seems like a wake-up call for these organizations as they look to the future. Rob Fullmer, Executive Director of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, told us “the truth is, we’re far too dependent on festival income and other revenue streams that are sometimes income generators and other times promotional giveaways. The fight for our members’ survival and our organization’s survival and our own personal survival exposed all of our liabilities… We’ve managed to stave off direct conflict here in Arizona, but we can’t continue with the old plan of festivals and last-minute public support to bail us out.”
So what is the new path forward for Brewers Guilds? How will they stay afloat as the pandemic ekes along? On a micro level, if you’re wondering how you can help out, a great first step is to contact your state or regional guild for more information. From a broader view, we expect to see forthcoming changes that refine the structure of these guilds, and hope that the public will be ready and willing to step in and help them restructure into something stronger for the future.