Category Archives: Beer Industry

#Beerclub Opens Doors

Monday night a few #beerclubbers were invited to a special Tenth and Blake tasting at Miller Brewery by our newest #beerclub member, the stunning Lisa Zimmer (I wasn’t put up to saying she’s stunning or anything 😉 ). Lisa is the Digital and Consumer Outreach Manager for Tenth and Blake, a division of Miller Brewing.

First, a little background. Tenth and Blake was created three and a half years ago in as the craft and import division of Miller. They oversee brands like Blue Moon, Leinenkugels, Pilsner Urkell, AC Golden, and St. Stefanus among others. They get a lot of flak for being “Fake Craft Beer” and the corporate whores of the beer industry, but through people like Lisa, they are working on overcoming that image.

One of the ways they are overcoming this stems from some internal policies. All staff members of the Tenth and Blake division are given two weeks of intensive beer education. This education includes how to homebrew, and how to taste beer. Every employee is given a homebrew kit as part of their employment, and they are all required to pass the server level cicerone test. Lisa also said that since their offices are in Chicago, away from the brewing facilities, that they are encouraged to brew beer at work. They feel it’s important to be around the brewing process, and have beers fermenting near them while they work. This is the same company that gets constantly derided for not appreciating beer. More on Tenth and Blake in a bit, but let’s get onto the drinking stories.

Fred Miller's Pub

Fred Miller’s Pub

A few weeks ago, #beerclub drank Blue Moon to celebrate the actual blue moon. This is a beer that falls under the umbrella of Tenth and Blake, so we invited Lisa to join in on the conversation. She wasn’t able to make it that night, but she did want to reach out to us and invited a small group to meet her at Frederick Miller’s Pub. The pub is located on the brewery grounds, and it was built after the SAB Miller purchase with the intention of being a place for employees to go after work, and increase camaraderie among the staff.

Miller's Cooler

The cooler door at Miller’s Pub

The bar is gorgeous. It’s really welcoming with plush seating, bright wood on the walls, beer steins, and there’s no tacky neon. I have some pics taken by fellow #beerclubber Jodi. If I was an employee, or had access to the bar, I’d be there pretty often. The place just has a very cool atmosphere.

Genevieve and I arrived at the same time and Lisa invited us to grab a beer from the bar. Both of us had the Third Shift Marzen. poured into a tall glass while Lisa arranged to start pouring from her secret stash. Once she opened up her stash, we were off to the races.

I’m not going to give a commentary on all the drinks we had, but I will provide a list, just so you can get some idea of the variety, and quality of the beers we were trying:

  • Crispin – Ginger and Elderberry Cider
  • AC Golden – Hidden Barrel Kriek
  • Leinenkugels – Snowdrift Vanilla Porter
  • Terrapin – Free Spirit Farmhouse Ale
  • Brouwerij Van Steenberge –  St. Stefanus Blonde
  • Worthington’s White Shield – IPA from Burton upon Trent
  • Blue Moon – Caramel Apple Spiced Ale
  • Crispin – Stagger Lee
  • Fox Barrel –  Orange Peel & Corriander
  • Fox Barrel – English Perry
  • Crispin – Lansdowne
  • Leinenkugels – “Ten Miles Wide” (a special not for release version of the Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout that was bourbon barrel aged over sour cherries) This one was complete with a special label:
Ten Miles Wide

Ten Miles Wide

All of these beers were really good, and we had some great discussion about where Tenth and Blake’s sees themselves in the market. 

We even had some special guests who came to talk with us.

Mike from Crispin has been the Wisconsin rep for some time, and now he’s in charge of the Midwest region. He came and brought most of the Crispin and Fox Barrel samples that we had. Unfortunately we ran out of time to try all of the ciders he brought, so he just sent them home with us. I have some ciders here that I’m really excited to try.

It was very interesting to hear the viewpoint of someone who worked for Crispin well before the Tenth and Blake acquisition, and who admitted he wasn’t sure how the company would be treated after being bought out. After the acquisition, not a single employee has left the company. That tells me that Tenth and Blake is doing this right. They’re not the big evil conglomerate that some people in the craft community make them out to be. Sure, they are a part of a large brewery, but these people are passionate about their beers and ciders.

Dick Leinenkugel and Mike Christensen

Dick Leinenkugel and Mike Christensen

Then, while we were drinking and talking, Dick Leinenkugel came and sat with us. Dick doesn’t quite understand twitter, but he does understand beer, and he’s a very personable guy who has a pretty quick wit. He stayed and talked with us for most of the time we were in the pub. It’s kind of surreal to be drinking with a member of the Leinenkugel family who is wearing a Leinenkugel’s shirt.

As if that weren’t enough, we had a quick introduction to Dr. David Ryder, head brewer at Miller, and VP in charge of Brewing and Research for MillerCoors. He had a quick sample with us, before he went back to drinking his Miller Lite. When Dick commented on the choice of a Miller Lite, Dr. Ryder responded with “What can I say?” Another very pleasant man, who really knows his beer.

Dr. David Ryder and Dick Leinenkugel

Dr. David Ryder and Dick Leinenkugel

Once we finished at the pub (it was just after 6:30 PM by this time) we took a cab over to Molly Cool’s seafood for dinner where the discussion with Lisa continued. She is a perfect person to be doing this consumer outreach. She knows her stuff, but she is also very friendly and easy to get along with.

There are more stories, but this post has gotten long, and unfortunately, you just had to be there for yourself to experience it. We may have an opportunity to do this again, I’ll keep you all posted if such an opportunity arises. Trust me, you don’t want to miss it.

Yellow, Fizzy, and Tasteless: Further Analysis of the Brewing War

I’ve received lots of responses to my previous post Wisconsin Craft Brewers Under Attack and decided I should post a follow-up to answer some questions and clarify some other aspects of my original post.

Aren’t They Exempt?

Ale Asylum Bedlam

Ale Asylum Bedlam

One question I’ve heard a lot is “I’ve seen talk about breweries with production levels of under 300,000 barrels a year are exempt, isn’t this true?” From my interpretation (I am not a lawyer) it appears that there is one provision of the motion that allows for self distribution for those breweries under 300,000 bbls. However, as outlined in the proposal on page 4 near the bottom, in order to self distribute the brewer must:

[comply] with the requirements of laws governing restrictions on dealings between brewers brewpubs, wholesalers and relatilser and laws governing distribution restrictions on wholesalers, brewers, brewpubs, and out-of-state shippers, including those imposed on wholesalers.

This seems to say that the brewery must abide by the same requirements as a wholesaler in order to self distribute. That seems fair, until you take into account existing laws and other provisions outlined in this motion that govern wholesalers.

For example, this bill mandates that new wholesalers must establish “at least 25 retail licenses or to other wholesalers that do not have any direct or indirect interest in each other or in the wholesaler” before they can legally obtain a wholesalers license. The wording of the self-distribution provision doesn’t clarify if a brewery must also have 25 customers lined up before they are allowed to self distribute, but it’s a fair reading of the bill to assume that they would.

New Glarus Enigma

New Glarus Enigma

In addition, these self distribution provisions seem to mean that a brewery can opt to distribute their own beer while foregoing the wholesaler option in a territory. Currently breweries can maintain a relationship with a wholesaler in a territory, and do some limited self distribution when it makes sense. This allows the brewery to send most of their beer to market through the wholesaler but to self distribute as necessary. To self distribute under these proposed regulations, the brewery must wrestle away distribution rights from the current distributor, and behave like a wholesaler. This makes the barriers to self distribution too high for small breweries to actually take advantage.

Double Speak

The motion has a lot of double speak in it, there is a whole section devoted to making it look like the provisions will benefit small breweries, but in fact the section does the exact opposite.

On page six we can see this language:

Repeal the following current law provisions:

  • A brewer that, together with its brewer group, manufactures not more than 50,000 barrels of beer in a calendar year in any location may be issued a wholesalere’s license for wholesale premises located on brewery premises.
  • A  brewer that together with its brewer group…

The key word in this language is repeal this is a list of rights that breweries currently have, that will be removed with passage of this motion. It’s easy to gloss over that one word, but that word is absolutely crucial to a correct understanding of the adverse effects laid forth in this motion.

Later in the document, page 7 paragraph 3 section c states:

“Instead, provide and an exemption from these provisions for small brewer sales to retailers and restaurants operated by a brewer.”

This language needs to be clarified. In its current syntax, it’s easy to say there’s an exemption here. However, nothing in this document explains/defines/clarifies what this exemption is. All we have is an indefinite article, “an exemption,” which tells us little. Also, one could easily interpret the sentence to mean the exemption only allows small brewers to sell to retailers and restaurants operated by a brewer. In other words, small brewers are not allowed to sell to establishments (retailers and restaurants) not operated by a brewer, basically, the majority of the marketplace.

Legislators Response

Upon sending an email to my representative, I got this response:


We have recently gotten a few e-mails on this issue and here is what I know. I think that there may be some mis-information floating around but these are the facts.

GOP Sen. Glenn Grothman and Dem Sen. Bob Jauch were the only two members to vote against the motion that you reference that makes changes regarding the wholesale distribution of beer.

Among other things, the motion regarding three-tiered beer laws gives licensing authority over wholesalers for the sale of beer from premises to the state Department of Revenue. Currently, municipalities can issue the permits. Under the motion, people holding unexpired municipal wholesaler’s licenses prior to Jan. 1 must be treated as wholesalers holding valid licenses until Jan. 1, 2013, whereupon all municipal licenses will be voided.

The motion deletes a current provision that prohibits the consumption of beer on a wholesaler’s premises. The motion specifies that a wholesaler’s permit may not be issued to a person who holds a brewers permit. It also eliminates a grandfather provision that allows a person to hold a wholesaler’s license, a retail beer permit or license, an industrial beer permit, or a brewpub permit.

It also eliminates a provision that allows a brewer to hold a wholesaler’s license and a Class “B” license for on- or off-premises sales of beer. While a wholesaler is prohibited from holding a retail license, a wholesaler is allowed to sell or give beer to its employees under the motion.

Any wholesaler issued a retail license prior to Jan. 1, 2011 may continue to sell the beer at retails as permitted under the retail license. The motion eliminates the current fee for a municipal wholesaler’s license, but instead requires DOR to determine a beer wholesaler’s permit fee in an amount sufficient to fund one special agent position dedicated to alcohol and tobacco enforcement in an amount not to exceed $2,500 per year.

The motion also specifies that a wholesaler may not hold an ownership interest in any brewer unless that interest was established prior to the effective date of the bill.

Something to keep in mind also is that this legislation does not affect breweries that produce less than 300,000 barrels a year and, for to put this into perspective, New Glarus produced 92,000 in 2010. This legislation just keeps Anheuser-Busch from monopolizing the beer market in Wisconsin.

This motion passed 12-2 and I am not aware of nor do I anticipate any detrimental impact on small businesses but please let me know if you have a specific concern.

Hope this helps,


It’s clear that Rep. Kapenga is missing the true effects this legislation will have on small breweries. As I outlined in my previous post, and further explained in this one, there are very real consequences for these small brewers, and I haven’t covered every aspect of the motion.

For a more complete rundown of the effects of this proposed legislation, check out this post on the Madison Beer Review, or this letter from Stacey McGinnis at Tyranena.

The Time is Now

We don’t have much time to fight back. The budget along with this motion is being pushed through at breakneck speeds, and we need your help to stop it. Keep up the pressure and please take action if you haven’t already. Again here are the steps you can take to support these small businesses:

  1. Ask your favorite bars and restaurants to take down their MillerCoors taps.
  2. Call or write your state legislators and tell them to stand up for Wisconsin brewers by opposing changes to Chapter 125.
  3. Call MillerCoors at 1-800-645-5376 and tell them to stop supporting this provision.
  4. Join the Wisconsin Brewer’s Guild as a Wisconsin Beer Lover.

These proposals, much like the beer produced by MillerCoors show the true nature of the international conglomerate brewer. One of the most special things about the craft beer industry is the spirit of collaboration that it enjoys. These little breweries, even though they are in competition with each other, also celebrate victories, and join forces for the good of the beer, and the beer drinker. The big brewers share no such comradeship and are out to be as vicious as possible to this new competition.

These provisions are evidence of MillerCoors’ fear of the rise of craft beer. They are doing anything they can to make competition more difficult for the little breweries and hiding behind campaign donations to influence the laws and drive small businesses out of their market. Everything about this MillerCoors legislation leaves a bad taste in my mouth, just like their beer.


Mitch Jurisch

I had help with interpreting the legislation and writing this post from a representative of a local brewery who chose to remain nameless to prevent a possible reprisal.

Wisconsin Craft Brewers Under Attack

This post appears on the twitter #beerclub blog and on the Tosa Patch Beer Club Blog. These sites are here to help beer drinkers learn about their beverages and everything that goes into making them. Because of this, I’m delving a little into the background of the proposals. I am not a lawyer, a brewer, nor am I a journalist. I’m just a guy who loves beer and doesn’t want to see our lawmakers take away the thing I love. Because of my non-expert status I welcome any corrections, clarifications and comments.

The Background

We are living in a golden age in craft beer in America and Wisconsin. The big breweries and their tasteless yellow fizzy beers are losing market share while the artisan craft market is growing by leaps and bounds. In 2010 in the midst of our current economic climate, the overall beer market lost 1% in revenue. At that same time there was a 12% growth in revenue for craft brewers. Craft breweries are making a serious dent in the market share for the yellow fizzy beer producers that have had all the power in the industry for far too long.

Lakefront Bridge Burner

Wisconsin has been at the forefront of this beer revolution. There are more than 60 craft breweries in Wisconsin, and three of them are among the 50 largest craft breweries in the country. Wisconsin isn’t in a leadership position in the craft beer world by coincidence. Wisconsin is home to craft beer pioneers who have been brewing since well before craft beer was cool. Not many states have even close to as many well established, long standing craft breweries as we enjoy here. One of the reasons we have such a presence of small breweries is because of the laws we have governing them.

It wasn’t always this way. After Prohibition was repealed with the 21st ammendment, new laws were introduced to change the alcohol culture of the United States, and avoid a repeat of the events running up to prohibition. Chief among these laws was the establishment of the three tier system in an effort to do away with tied houses.

Sprecher IPA2

Sprecher IPA2

Pre-prohibition there were many “tied houses” which is a fancy way of saying a bar that was tied with a particular brewery. Breweries took advantage of owning the distribution channels and applied pressure to consumers to encourage more drinking. This in turn lead to overindulgence and abuse of the system by many consumers. When prohibition came and went, the government wanted to learn from their mistakes and designed a three tier system to limit the future possibility of these kinds of abuses.

The three tier system mandates that there are three entities that must handle our beverage before we get our hands on it. Under this system a brewer must sell any beer it produces to a distributor and that distributor must sell it to the retail establishment. This limits the brewery’s ability to have a tap room, restaurants, or self distribute. For more details about the three tier system I highly recommend that you watch Beer Wars.

Fortunately for Wisconsin breweries, there have been exemptions to this system. Under current law, a brewery can have ownership in up to two restaurants, hold a wholesaler license, self distribute their product and have a tap room at the brewery. These exemptions open alternate revenue streams and marketing opportunities for breweries that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

The Proposal

Capital Brewery Supper Club

Capital Brewery Supper Club

Now that I’ve explained a small amount of where we are, let’s get into the details of what’s happening in the state capital. Right now, MillerCoors and some powerful lobbying groups are engaging in a war on the small craft brewers under the guise of writing laws to prevent Anheuser-Busch from buying wholesale distributors in Wisconsin.

Since Anheuser-Busch is such a large brewery, they often make up the majority of one distributor’s stock. They have the money and influence to keep small breweries off of store shelves. MillerCoors and the distributors are afraid that with this money, ABInbev (parent company of Anheuser-Busch) will start buying up distributors so they can be rid of the middle man and make more profits from the sale of their beers.

This particular proposal may or may not be good for beer drinkers, but that’s besides the point. Included in the legislation is a nine page motion that will revoke many of the rights that small breweries rely on to stay competitive against the big brewers.

This legislation was drafted, and passed through the joint finance committee without any input from the public, or the breweries that it would directly affect. Let’s look at some of the limitations that come from this proposed legislation:

  • Eliminates the current option of a brewer choosing to self-distribute or starting a Wholesale Distribution Company.
  • Eliminates a brewers current right to have ownership in two restaurants.
  • Protects (Grandfather Clause) current Wholesalers retail licenses, while eliminating that benefit for new start up Wholesalers.
  • Unfairly burdens new Wholesalers and breweries with a requirement of 25 separate independent retail customers before a Wholesale license can be granted.
  • Eliminates the ability of Brewers to sell existing retail or wholesale operations separately from the brewing operation.
  • Eliminates current Wholesale investment in privately held Wisconsin Breweries while allowing investment in out of state and foreign and publicly traded breweries.
  • Moves the power of licensing wholesalers from municipalities to the state level under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Revenue.
  • Only wholesalers are allowed to sample beer at retail (on and off premise) establishments, not the breweries. Consequently, the people who know their beer the best cannot do sampling. Furthermore, they are subject to the distributors’ schedule.

These proposals have a direct impact on the bottom line of small breweries. It’s clear that this legislation is designed to limit the growth of small breweries by removing the life lines they rely on. MillerCoors and the distributors are taking advantage of the political climate and making a power grab while they can.

To make matters worse, both of the large breweries at the heart of this legislation are foreign owned companies. SABMiller, parent company of MillerCoors, is headquartered in London, United Kingdon, and ABInbev, parent company of Anheuser-Busch is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium. These two global powerhouses of the brewing industry are crushing Wisconsin based businesses and threatening the artisan industry here in our state.

This legislation has passed the Joint Finance Committee and is now waiting to be tacked onto the full Wisconsin Budget Bill.

The Call To Action

We need to tell Wisconsin lawmakers that we’re not going to let them hurt local Wisconsin entrepreneurs and businesses just so they can help a conglomerate foreign owned brewery crush its competition.

O'So Lupulin Maximus

O'So Lupulin Maximus

While you could go to Madison and protest this legislation, there are actions you can take from home.

  1. Ask your favorite bars and restaurants to take down their MillerCoors taps.
  2. Call or write your state legislators and tell them to stand up for Wisconsin brewers by opposing changes to Chapter 125.
  3. Call MillerCoors at 1-800-645-5376 and tell them to stop supporting this provision.
  4. Join the Wisconsin Brewer’s Guild as a Wisconsin Beer Lover.

Let’s show the Wisconsin Legislature that it’s the Fourth Tier that’s the most important, the drinkers!

If you’re still reading this article, you deserve a beer. Go get yourself one and pass this info along to the beer lovers in your life.

Craft Beer-or Just Beer-and Women

At a recent beer bloggers conference one panel (rightfully) focused on Marketing Craft Beer to Women, which intrigued me because it’s something I’ve been concerned with for the past few years.  In some respects it’s a similar issue to marketing sex videos to women. Say what? Take a sip of craft beer and think about it. Porn/sex videos were originally made by men for mens’ pleasure. It took awhile to realize that many women did not enjoy the scenarios as much as guys not because they don’t like sex or sex videos but because they appreciate a different perspective.

Until recently, beer has pretty much been marketed exclusively to guys. So it’s been about men drinking and being served by luscious babes and/or guy humor, bonding over sports, grilling, etc.  Suffice it to say, a majority of beer advertising lacked many seductive notes or nuances. Now we have an increasing number of seductive beer ads, e.g., the sweaty bottle, and also ads showing brewers and people with a passion for the industry as well as the product. And that is largely due, I believe, to the influence of craft beer whose motto is best stated by Beer Advocate’s founders, Jason and Todd Alstrom: “Respect Beer.” Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams, not only was a leader in bringing craft beer to the “masses,” but he is one of the most creative marketers of craft beer. So I give props to Jim who came up with the “Don’t be afraid of flavor” craft beer campaign.

Perhaps you’re wondering where I’m going with this, what’s the tie-in with women and sex videos? Body image.  Beer commercials aimed at women almost exclusively focus on the lowest calorie beers. Too many calories = fat = unattractive. And now the beer calorie terror has spread to men. Is it MGD 64 that has a frequently played ad with neurotic thin men exercising so they can drink another Mich Ultra while the savvy guy drinking MGD 64 just stands around calm and collected? So not only are women worried about becoming fat if they drink beer, men are concerned too.  Funny, because vodka cocktails have more calories per ounce than beer and yet, you won’t see a vodka ad that plays to calorie anxiety.  Instead, you see signifiers of good taste such as people relaxing and enjoying themselves among friends in pleasant surroundings.

As far as beer is concerned it gets back to “Respect Beer,” and “Don’t Be Afraid of Flavor,” whether you’re a man or a woman.  Try some craft beers with friends, in a special beer glass or wine glass, and talk about the flavors you taste.  Enjoy what you’re drinking; savor the experience. And as far as marketing beer to women, good taste always sells.