After several months of consternation about how state regulators would oversee their burgeoning industry, Louisiana craft brewery leaders said they are more comfortable after seeing amendments to a Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control advisory that had raised concerns with several brewers.
The advisory, issued on March 31 to address questions about serving food, hosting events and other practices at breweries, was revised within days of its initial release after brewery owners raised concerns.
Louisiana brewery owners say they are concerned about their industry’s future under new stat…
Parish Brewing Company owner Andrew Godley, who previously said he would consider moving out of state after the initial advisory’s release, said he is feeling more positive since seeing the amendment and hearing support from legislators at a recent event at the state Capitol organized by the Louisiana Craft Brewers Guild.
“I can see a path where we can do good things, we can work with the ATC and the Legislature and other industry leaders ... in order to really grow all of our businesses,” Godley said. “I can see the path. I don’t think anybody saw that 5 or 6 months ago.”
Though Godley has not completely ruled out moving his Broussard-based brewery to another state with what he considers friendlier laws, he says it would take a culmination of factors like increased taxes and an anti-brewery government for him to commit to the move.
Guild members and the ATC, which oversees enforcement of Louisiana's regulations for the different players in the state's alcoholic beverage industry, began working on the advisory in February to clarify previously accepted practices that were questioned under the new administration. The number of Louisiana breweries has boomed to 28, with the majority opening in the past seven years.
The amendment to the ATC advisory addresses two key concerns for brewers. It allows breweries to sell more food, which many considered vital as many breweries had recently invested in new restaurant expansions. It also broadened previous earlier wording that seemed to restrict certain activities to specific rooms in a brewery.
The rule limiting brewery food sales to 25 percent of “beer sale originating on premises” was widened to 25 percent of “total beer sales” in the amendment. NOLA Brewery Founder and CEO Kirk Coco, who predicted that the original limitation in food sales would seriously affect his brewery and close others, previously said that amendment would be “more than adequate” to address the concerns of brewery owners.
The use of the word “taproom” in the advisory was eliminated and replaced with more general terms like "facility" and "brewery." Coco previously said the language of the advisory allowed for things like special events and live bands, but because it was written as allowed in the "taproom" it could be interpreted that it was only allowed in a room where beer is served on tap.
Overall, Godley said he doesn’t agree with the ATC’s ability to limit brewery food sales at all because there is no law that addresses that issue. In contrast, a Louisiana law mandates that food and non-alcholic beverage sales must make up more than 50 percent of average monthly revenue for restaurants.
“At the end of the day we have a written opinion from the ATC,” Godley said. “That’s something that the previous administration didn’t like to do. … So it’s nice to at least have it in writing, but we still don’t agree with it.”
Cary Koch, executive director of the Louisiana Craft Brewers Guild, said he felt the industry has come a long way in a few short months and is confident about working with ATC Commissioner Juana Marine-Lombard in the future.
“There was a give and take on both sides of where this document has come from and then where it is now,” Koch said. “There are some upset parties on some of the things included in the advisory opinion, but we changed the advisory opinion after a weekend of it being released. This is not a rule. This is not a law. This is to help us.”
ATC Chief of Staff Ernest Legier said though there are some unresolved issues, the ATC is also committed to working with the guild to move forward.
In the future, Koch said the guild could consider and push for changes in legislation, but first they need to define their strategy. Overall, he thinks that state officials and legislators are generally supportive of the industry.
State breweries hosted the first ever Louisiana Craft Beer Day at the capitol two weeks ago with 20 breweries pouring samples and meeting with state legislators. Koch said it was the biggest gathering of that many breweries pouring at once in Louisiana and that the event helped the breweries find common ground about where they want to go in the future.
“It was a great step forward where we haven't had the most success in the past getting everybody on the same page,” Koch said. “Everybody kind of understands that we are stronger in numbers and that’s where we want to be and where we want to continue to grow to.”
Godley felt the meetings were important because the industry has not had a huge presence at the capitol before. He said legislators asked him about his ideal list of statutes for the industry.
“We were asked that by several legislators and a lot of us were just stunned,” Godley said. “It’s like someone saying you have a genie and three wishes now.”
Now he hopes that a commission will be put together to look at best practices in states with thriving and dominant brewing industries such as North Carolina, Colorado, Oregon and Virginia.
Scott Wood, co-owner of the New Orleans-based Courtyard Brewery, said he felt “uncertain, but hopeful” about the future of craft beer in Louisiana after the beer day and the Louisiana Hop Festival, which he hosted last week with 20 other breweries. The festival was organized to support small, local breweries and the guild, Wood said.
“I think we have a lot of good will throughout the state,” Wood said. “The craft beer market in Louisiana is a success story in a state without a lot of growth in other industries; and I think people, especially legislators, recognize that and want to help foster more growth, jobs, taxes, culture, etc.”