Craft brewers pushing for reform legislation

Published 10:10 am Wednesday, December 15, 2021

By John Guidroz

Billboards throughout Lake Charles are attempting to grab the attention of state legislators on the need to update Louisiana’s antiquated laws for craft brewers.

The billboards read, “Dear Santa, All we want for Christmas is craft beer reform! Sincerely, Louisiana Craft Brewers.” The campaign was put up ahead of the 16th annual Legis-Gator event happening today at L’Auberge Casino Resort. Hosted by the Chamber Southwest Louisiana, Legis-Gator attracts plenty of state lawmakers and other statewide elected leaders.

“We need to send a message that Louisiana breweries are open for business, and the state cannot forget about this industry,” said Cary Koch, executive director of the Louisiana Craft Brewers Guild. “If we don’t see anything about movement, it’s going to crush a very bright, burgeoning industry. Our push is really to catch up to speed with the rest of the states that are now blowing right by us.”

Louisiana has 44 breweries, the fewest per capita nationwide, Koch said. He said reform is needed as other southern states have more breweries, including 364 in Texas, 368 in Florida, 122 in Tennessee, 130 in Georgia and 52 in Alabama.

“We know that when people visit here, they expect to have more Louisiana-made beer,” he said.  When they don’t see as many breweries in general, or not as many craft beers for sale at retailers or restaurants, I think they are shocked.”

One reform being sought by the Craft Brewers Guild is allowing breweries to deliver beer to retailers without having to use a wholesaler. Koch said more than 40 states have already approved some form of a self distribution law for breweries. Under current Louisiana law, breweries must go through a beer wholesaler to get their product to market.

“With the massive portfolios wholesalers have, they cater more to their larger clients,” he said. “Local breweries are not going to be a large client in their book. There’s got to be a way to get something through the process to let small brands get to market.”

Koch said breweries looking to expand should be able to brew beer at one location and sell it at another location. Under current state law, breweries can only serve and sell beer that is brewed on-site. If a second location is opened, beer must be brewed there before it can be sold, even if similar brands are brewed at the original location.

“The thought behind this one is if I have a brewery who wants to expand, I don’t have to remake the flagship brands that made it that big,” Koch said.

Another needed change would let breweries serve other alcoholic products like beer and spirits to give consumers more options. Koch said this has been implemented in other states and has drawn more customers.

Under current state law, wine made in Louisiana can be distributed straight to consumers, but not craft beer. Koch said this is another necessary update, especially as shipping companies grew significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic and have continued to flourish.

“The amount of people who now order online, as far as food and drink, has proved to be a good business model,” he said. “If that’s not part of our business model, we’re probably going to be left in the dust.”

Koch said laws need updating to let a craft brewery easily get out of its contract with a wholesaler.

“Right now, we really can’t get out of these contracts,” he said. “Once you sign with a wholesaler, the brands are there for the entirety of the business.”

Koch said legislators must consider these reforms so Louisiana’s craft beer industry can keep up with other states.

“Why would a brewery stay here when they can have the same business model in Texas and Arkansas and be more profitable,” he asked. “The rest of the nation is looking at Louisiana with a big ‘x’ because of other states successfully capitalizing on the industry and making good, smart reforms.”