“What’s a brewers’ guild?” That’s the most common question I field every year at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver when I represent the San Francisco Brewers Guild at the Support Your Local Brewery Pavilion. The pavilion features guilds from around the country. We pour beer created by our members, promote our activities, and answer questions about our region or breweries.
A few months ago I was asked to write an essay for the Menuism.com. I could cover any craft beer related topic, with editorial approval of course, and it seemed like a great opportunity to talk about the important role of brewers’ guilds. You can read the results below, or find “Why Brewers’ Guilds Matter,” where it originally appeared, on Menuism.com.
Why Brewers’ Guilds Matter
If you’re thirsty for a beer tonight, satisfying that urge is pretty simple. Your corner store, watering hole, or even better yet, local brewery, should offer a range of great choices. Unfortunately, depending on where you live, that’s not always the case. The creation, delivery, and your access to beer is highly regulated. Many laws serve an important purpose, while others stifle economic growth and limit choices for beer fans. The groups confronting these issues around the country are brewers’ guilds, and the benefits of their collaboration extend far beyond the legal landscape.
If you weren’t dozing off in history class, you may remember that guilds rose to prominence in medieval Europe. Groups of merchants or tradesmen banded together to uphold best practices, ensure quality, and promote and protect mutual interests. Hundreds of years later, these goals are still shared by state and regional brewers’ guilds, which are playing a big and often unsung role in the rapidly expanding craft beer industry.
Guilds often work quietly behind the scenes to maintain and expand their member’s legal rights, which ultimately ensures beer fans can access and enjoy the brews they love. They also foster a level of collaboration and support that has few parallels in other industries. Common practices include sharing ingredients, equipment, techniques, and jointly promoting one another at beer festivals, all of which fuel a popular notion in the craft beer industry, that a rising tide lifts all boats.
According to Acacia Coast, the State Brewers Association Coordinator, there are 48 state guilds, 10 regional and city guilds, and one just launched in the District of Columbia. She explained their importance, saying, “This industry is truly burgeoning, and our strength as a community grows exponentially through the effort of the national network of craft brewer’s guilds. The issues impacting craft beer are intensifying fast and furious, and most often at the state level. State guilds have proven to make a substantial impact on these issues, often successfully advancing their state’s beer laws.”
Texas breweries celebrated a huge milestone earlier this summer. The governor signed a series of beer bills that are the “biggest change to Texas craft beer laws since brewpubs were legalized in 1993,” according to Charles Vallhonrat, the executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. The guild’s legislative committee, headed by Scott Metzger of Freetail Brewing Company and Brock Wagner of Saint Arnold Brewing Company, spent over 18 months on the initiative.
They were part of working group headed by State Senator Leticia Van de Putte that included two distributor trade associations, a grassroots consumer group called Open the Taps, and other brewery representatives. Their input, effort, and ability to compromise, resulted in the passage of five beer bills that give breweries more production, packaging, and distribution flexibility. As a result, the industry should expand, more jobs will be created, tax revenues will go up, and most importantly, Texas beer fans and tourists will enjoy more beer.
Vallhonrat said that some guild members weren’t happy with the final compromise, “but, in the end, the Guild remained united, and that was probably the most important thing that influenced the passage of the bills. Having one message communicated by the Guild, instead of multiple opinions, not only got the bills through the process, it earned Texas craft brewers a seat at the table in future legislative sessions when beer bills are discussed.”
Instead of tackling laws, brewers prefer to spend their time making beer. If they have a problem or need advice, they can often lean on fellow brewers in the guild for help. When members of the San Francisco Brewers Guild gather for our monthly Meet the Brewer events, brewing tips, techniques, and advice about ingredients are always shared over a pint during the evening.
If a brewer has an urgent problem with equipment, he’ll email members of the guild and get a quick response. Recently, when a part on Speakeasy Ales & Lagers’ filter broke, head brewer Kushal Hall reached out for help. Within 20 minutes the owner of 21st Amendment Brewery, Shaun O’Sullivan, pointed him to company that could help and even checked to see if he could offer his own part as a temporary replacement.
While there can be an undercurrent of competition among guild members, brewers genuinely want to support one another out of friendship, but also because they see the bigger picture. By acting as stewards of the industry, the entire craft beer movement will benefit. This kind of mutual support also extends into guild promotional activities that inspire and engage beer fans.
The Michigan Brewers Guild recently launched a billboard campaign called “Drink Michigan Beer,” which benefits every member rather than a select few. It also organizes four seasonal beer festivals. Each wildly popular festival takes place in a different region of the state; the guild presents its members’ beer in the best possible context for the consumer and craft beer on a whole. Many guilds organize festivals and beer weeks around the country as a way of funding their non-profit organizations.
Does your state, region or city have a brewer’s guild? Find yours by looking at the list on the Brewers Association website. They could use your support. Many offer beer enthusiast memberships for a modest price. Benefits typically include a shirt, special access to events, tours, and more. Be a part of the growing craft beer movement. You’ll have fun and help ensure more beer is available at breweries, bars and restaurants in your area.