Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Q&A With Newly Elected Brewers Guild President Caleb Pollard

I thought it would be a good idea to introduce everyone to Caleb Pollard and ask him a few questions about the Nebraska Brewers Guild and some of the items he really wants to address while serving as President.  If you have yet to meet Caleb I highly encourage you to take a trip to Ord, Nebraska and visit his brewery, Scratchtown Brewing Company.  They are making some very good beers and have some big plans for beer in out state Nebraska, which I greatly appreciate.  One of the hurdles out here is the inability to self distribute, which Caleb will discuss.  Caleb is the Chief Mover of Units at Scratchtown and the former Economic Development Director of Ord.  He knows his way around the brewery and around the Nebraska political landscape and should make the Guild a formidable force in the future.  Without further ado...

NBB: What are some of your ideas for the guild and craft beer in Nebraska? 
Caleb: First and foremost, my goal is to work with other fellow craft brewers to bring our industry along to advance both tax and legislative policy that will benefit our trade. Nebraska is very noncompetitive in several areas and is losing ground to other states when it comes to developing market segments for craft brewers. We want to see that change.
Secondly, I'd like to work with our fellow brewers to bring greater awareness of the craft beer industry both inside and outside of Nebraska. Greater market awareness of our products, better awareness of where our products can be consumed, and simply having fun. Craft beer pairs well with Nebraska local foods and Nebraska music - we should and need to be working with aligned industries for the advancement of all our businesses AND Nebraska.
Finally, I'd want to work to bring the greater fellowship with our fellow brewers. We are a brotherhood and a sisterhood that needs each other. We have plenty of competition from large, corporate domestic breweries and it makes no sense for us to NOT work together.

NBB:  I know you are working on legislation to address self-distribution, what do you think the major benefits to brewers and the public are that the average person may not understand?
Caleb: Let's start with the start-up costs of opening a new business. Every single cent a new business can retain to build their brand and grow their business is essential to growing our industry. Self-distribution is one effective means for a business to retain costs associated with overhead while building their brand during the early stages of their start-up. It also brings Nebraska into line with other states (36 to be exact) that allow some form of self-distribution. This can help the craft-beer industry be more competitive on a national scale. This is important for the industry and important for individual brewers.
Are you getting a good vibe for support for this? Its a mixed bag, really. You have many new breweries coming online in Nebraska, and it would be a boon for the start-up brewers. But you also have a status quo that thinks the system works well now, so why fix it? You have a lot of entrenched interests that wish to keep the system as it is, and I see why they would like this to continue down that path. The challenge I have with this attitude is the disregard for both state and national precedent in self-distribution. Farm wineries can self-distribute to retailers and 36 other states that allow for this arrangement.
Let me be clear - craft brewers NEED the 3-tier distribution system. What we're asking for is wiggle room to support the nascent start-ups along with helping the existing businesses grow. There is a threshold of production where self-distribution doesn't make sense; from a cost perspective along with time. Again, what we're asking for is a look at the current system to see if the current law is actually helping the industry grow, or whether it is a hindrance.

NBB:  What are some of the biggest challenges this measure will face? 
Caleb:  Disinterest in changing the status quo. Outside influence from large corporate interests.

NBB:  Do other states offer self-distribution options and what do they look like? 
Caleb:  Yes, 36 states. It varies depending on state.

NBB:  Do you have any other big projects on the horizon? 
Caleb:  Personally, as President, I'd like to visit every brewery in the state to better understand their needs. Just because I have an agenda as incoming President, doesn't mean it entirely jives with our members. I need to listen to what they want and help bring the Guild along to support their needs. Additionally, we'd like to see two Guild-sanctioned beer fests (outside of the Great Nebraska Beer Fest in Omaha) come along; one in Lincoln and one in Greater Nebraska. When and where that happens is still up for debate.

NBB:  What can a strong guild do in your mind? 
Caleb:  One word: community. We have to work together. We are still a very small, very niche and very diverse industry. We need each other more than working against each other. Nebraska has a wonderful habit of rugged individualism; it has made this state great. But we have to work together.

Thanks Caleb!  If you have any further questions for Caleb ask in the comments I will try and get a response for you.  We all look forward to further Guild news and events.

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