Independence Matters

Guest Opinion
Pam Brulotte

By Pam Brulotte
Icicle Brewing Co., Leavenworth

    As the President of the Washington Brewers Guild I wanted to take
     this chance to fill our community in on a current beer issue that
     you may have heard about in the news. There is a battle brewing
     in the beer business across the country and it has impacts on us
     even here in our beautiful mountain town and for our local
     brewery owners. Before I dive into details I wanted to give you a
     little of our personal background.
     Sixteen years ago, Oliver and I sold everything to move our
     family of five to Leavenworth from Prosser where we were previously
     farming hops and various other crops with Oliver’s family. We
     spent vacations and free time visiting Leavenworth and fell in
     love with the community and mountains. In 2001 we invested in
     property here and started small with a modest building where we
     popped fresh kettle korn on the weekends and soon added a sausage
     grill and beer garden. We opened München Haus with the
     intention of creating a neighborhood gathering place for our new
     community.
     In 2010, we built our brewery, Icicle Brewing Company, as our
     town had not had a brewery since 2001. We were excited to be
     bringing a small, independent brewery back to Leavenworth but
     this was a very scary endeavor as it takes a lot of capital to
     build a brewery. We had to risk financial stability but were
    dedicated to pursuing the challenge to bring a craft brewery back
     to our hometown as we are passionate about brewing quality craft
     beer and continuing to grow to provide jobs and added experiences
     for our locals and tourists which help the economy of
     Leavenworth. We set out to hire an amazing Brewmaster, Dean
     Priebe, and brew fresh Ales and Lagers using the waters of the
     Icicle and partnering with many Washington suppliers for our
     ingredients such as Yakima Valley hops and local subcontractors
     to fulfill our business needs.
     As locals, we are proud to be entrepreneurs in our industries and
     are dedicated to giving back to our community. We love
     collaborating with and supporting local organizations through
     projects such as our Benevolent Nights, sponsorships, auction
     donations and volunteering time. We also are thankful for the
     80-100 year round amazing employees who are now a part of our
     team at München Haus and Icicle Brewing Company. I give you this
     background as an example of how your support of small business
     directly helps support our amazing community.
     So, back to this beer battle…  Sales of Big Beer brands (eg.
     AB InBev, SABMiller & Molson Coors) have been declining and they
     will do whatever it takes to ensure their shareholders don’t
     pay the price. At first, we saw Big Beer brands spend millions of
     dollars to undermine independent craft brewers, like us, in ads
     mocking our creative flavors and styles. That didn’t work, so
     now they have been quietly buying independent craft breweries (10
     Barrel, Elysian Brewing Company, Golden Road Brewing, Four Peaks
     Brewery, Breckenridge Brewery, Devils Backbone Brewing Company,
     Wicked Weed Brewing, Hop Valley, Saint Archer, Terrapin, and
     others), which is where the growth in beer has been over the past
     two decades. They have deep pockets and use their distribution
     muscle to get their brands on shelves at retailers while pushing
     small independent local brands off shelves. This impacts beer
     lovers’ ability to find their favorite local brands when they
     shop. Here’s the main point… They aren’t letting beer
     drinkers know which brands they have acquired. And, this lack of
     transparency is the problem.
     When it comes to the origins of food and beverages, there is
     increasing public interest in transparency. Beer drinkers are no
     exception. We hear regularly from independent craft brewers that
     their fans want to know who makes their beer.
     With Big Beer acquiring small breweries, it has become
     increasingly difficult for beer drinkers to know and remember
     which brands are truly independent, myself included. Yet, we know
     that independence is important to consumers and they want
     transparency as it pertains to ownership. A Nielsen/Brewbound
     Harris Poll released in May confirmed this. It revealed that
     ‘independence’ matters. Beer drinkers vote with their dollars
     and want to support businesses that align with their values. They
     have indicated that ownership can drive their purchase intent.
     But, transparency doesn’t currently exist in the beer
     industry.
Imagine if Walmart came into town and bought Dan’s Food Market (Leavenworth independent grocer), but didn’t tell us. They just kept operating the store under the name of Dan’s. But, rather than sourcing local fare, they were drawing from their large global network and proceeds first and foremost went to international shareholders rather than back into the community.
     The good news for those of us who want to know who owns
     businesses that we support is that small and independent craft
     brewers across the country have just introduced a way for beer
     lovers to identify who is brewing their beer. They can now put
     an Independent Craft Brewer Seal, developed by the Brewers
     Association, declaring their independent ownership on their
     packaging, menus, brewpub doors, tap handles and more. Much the
     same way we have seen seals for Non-GMO ingredients and USDA
     Certified Organic rise in the food industry, brewers now have a
     tool to communicate with beer drinkers at their point of
     purchase.
     This seal features an iconic beer bottle shape flipped upside
     down to capture the spirit with which independent craft brewers
     have upended the beer industry over the years. Breweries that are
     approved to use the seal (and there are more than 5,000 of us in
     the U.S.) run our businesses free of domineering influence from
     other alcohol beverage companies which are not themselves craft
     brewers.
     Independent craft brewing is about passion for great beer but it
     is also about supporting American entrepreneurs and risk takers
     who strive to re-invest to build culture and community – who
     put people and principles ahead of profit. We hope beer drinkers
     will consider this when they select which beers to enjoy, and we
     are happy to help them identify those brewers with this seal.
     Thank you again for all of your support of our local business and
     the local craft brewing industry.

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