Taverns have a history in America as a community space where local citizens could meet and discuss topics of interest in a town hall format. Although this tradition seems to have faded over time, citizens and craft beer lovers in Oklahoma City last week embraced the tradition and held a “State of the Brewnion” summit at a local brewpub. The purpose of the summit was to attract attention of lawmakers in hopes of advancing legal changes to the beer industry.
Many of the concerns were focused on the state’s “three tiered system” and the challenges it places on the beer makers. Following Prohibition, states began developing three tiered systems in the alcohol industry to regulate the newly legal trade. The three tiers of the alcohol industry are producers, distributors, and retailers. In general, the idea is that producers can only sell their products to distributors. In turn, distributors can only sell to retailers. Lastly, only retailers can sell directly to consumers. “Producers” is a fairly broad term that applies to breweries, wineries, distilleries, and importers of alcohol.
In the wake of the recent craft beer popularity boom, states across the country have moved to make their three tiered systems laws more accommodating to the craft beer market. However, even with these changes, many independent breweries face difficult challenges. In Oklahoma, for example, customers can only purchase their products at restaurants and liquor stores.
Patrick Lively, President and Brew Master of Anthem Brewing Co., attended the State of the Brewnion summit and voiced his concerns:
“I definitely think there’s movement, but there’s still a lot of work to go,” Lively added “We have not had the ability to sell all of our product on site for consumption and trying.”
Although breweries in Oklahoma can now give tours to visitors and offer a single 12-ounce pour, local breweries are pushing for new rules that would allow for tap rooms and the ability to sell beer-to-go to customers.
At least one lawmaker is already paying attention. Oklahoma State Senator Stephanie Bice attended and spoke at the event last week. In the previous legislative session, Senator Bice introduced a bill that would have amended Oklahoma law to permit liquor stores to refrigerate beer. Since then, the bill has expanded into a larger conversation which some see as an opportunity for significant statewide reform to beer laws. At the summit, Senator Bice explained that Oklahoma state alcohol laws are outdated because they were made part of the state constitution in 1959, which means an amendment would have to be approved by a statewide ballot.