A remarkably appropriate quote referenced by fellow brewery owner Joey Redner:
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” -Mahatma Gandhi
Eric Criss from the Beer Industry of Florida has decided to address us all. If you haven’t read Eric’s blog you can find it here: http://floridabeer.org/blog.html I suggest you do so if you haven’t as it will provide context for what follows. Also, please be aware, I’m speaking as Mike from Due South, not the president of the FBG and what I say is in no way to be construed as the opinion of the Florida Brewers Guild. I’m on my own here.
First of all, Mr. Criss, you’re no Jack Kennedy. To say “What unites us is far greater than what divides us” would require a look at what constitutes ‘us’. It’s unfortunate this entire issue has been deemed a distributor / craft brewer fight. It’s not in my opinion. Some of the distributors are following the unfortunate lead of your organization and the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association and I believe this to be the root of the issue. To that point, let us have a look at the relationships for a moment.
Craft brewers need distributors. I have a great relationship with my distributor and I firmly believe distributors like Brown, JJ Taylor, Pepin, etc. are embracing the craft beer movement to all of our mutual benefit. I won’t speak for a distributor in the panhandle pushing the bad bill last session here, but the wholesalers that have recognized the benefit of approaching the craft industry as an asset are seeing the fruits. Collectively we accomplish much more than we could on our own and we gladly pay our margins for the services they offer us. It’s a win win.
Obviously, distributors need craft beer. With the diminishing market share of the foreign conglomerates like ABI and MillerCoors, if the wholesalers are to increase their shares and grow their businesses, they need a growing industry. Like craft. Are ABI and MillerCoors an issue as you say? Possibly, but we’ll get to that in a minute. For now, I doubt anyone in the midst of our industry growth, be it a distributor or a strong craft brand, would deny the necessity for the existence of both of our aspects of this business.
So the question is this: If we work together on a daily basis, each benefiting from the other, each helping the other every single day, why so much tension? I propose this issue may be due to your involvement and the head of FBWA’s involvement in needing to justify your existence as well as the tremendous amounts of money spent each year by your members. It appears the existence of your organizations would hinge on demonstrating some fabricated necessity while perpetuating a rift between the real ‘us’. Now, this is pure speculation, I admit, as I’m not privy to any personal conversations but it would appear to the outside observer to be true. While I’m at it, I’ll also speculate this: If the distributors and craft brewers were working together in legislative matters the way we work together to bring great beer to the market, what would we need you for? Much of your blog focused on ABI’s purchase of Elysian. It appears you’re finally ready to share what you’re really concerned about. But your unfortunate attempt to use Florida craft brewers as a pawn in your efforts to protect yourselves in the past has come back to haunt you.
I do believe ‘big beer’ is a potential problem. Will what you say is going to happen happen? I don’t know. But at least when I speculate I admit it. If in fact this ‘behemoth’ could cause our industry to come ‘crashing down’ then holy crap, don’t you think we should be discussing it? And when I say ‘we’, I don’t mean you or your counterpart personally, I mean the folks really affected by this. The real ‘us’. Thinking about it, no, I don’t suppose you do. Case and point, last year instead of coming to us and saying, “Help us draft language to protect us all”, a huge addendum was added to our growler bill to ensure it didn’t pass. Not your finest hour in my opinion. And before you say ‘the other guy did it’, I’ll save you the trouble. In light of the recent lawsuit, it’s apparent you are one in the same.
I firmly believe there will come a day when the distributors and brewers will sit down together and draft a plan we can take to Jack Latvala and Dana Young (side note: I found these references in Mr. Criss’ blog to be quite amusing given the current climate in Tallahassee) to move our industry in the right direction rather than continue with this stagnation. I can only hope the members of your organizations begin to see the turning of the tide and ineffectiveness of your archaic methods and leave the dark side (as some already have) and come to a place where we can create ideas, develop plans, and implement new paths to the success of our industry together, without having to stumble over your rhetoric and wade through the mire that your organizations tend to regurgitate anytime someone mentions the words ‘craft brewer’. I am of the opinion your ‘protect the three-tier’ sign is quite worn and in need of updating. Perhaps one that simply says ‘help’ would be deemed more appropriate.
I’ll wrap this up with an apology if you feel I have offended you personally Mr. Criss, as it was not my intention. Where I come from, business is business, and this is business. As your position stands to potentially harm my business, I hope you understand my intent to protect myself and Due South. While the brewers seem to have strong relationships with their distributors with the exception of the circles you move in, I’m simply stating the obvious it would seem. So please don’t take offense sir, I simply find you in my way. As we craft brewers tend to be quite resourceful folk, I would advise a change of course. Just FYI.
And finally a word to the distributors that deliver our beer, invest in and help build our brands, and work with us side by side as we grow this wonderful industry, please know you are appreciated by myself and many other brewers around the state. When you’re ready to actually move forward in a positive way, let the brewers know, directly. You might just be surprised how easily the bridge is built when the tools are in the right hands.
And one more point if I may. Should any legislators read this, please don’t construe it as an unwillingness to work with our distributors to formulate a mutual plan. Quite the contrary. I for one am ready and willing. But if you’ll notice, during the committee meetings in Tallahassee last week, multiple brewers, including myself, addressed committees in both the House and the Senate. Did you see any distributors? I didn’t either. Did the heads of the Beer Industry of Florida and the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association have anything to do with it? I don’t know. Just something to think about.
Now I’ll leave you with a screenshot from Facebook of the Beer Industry of Florida addressing a fellow brewery owner and friend of mine, Eric Luman, of Green Room to provide more context as to what we’re up against.