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Thursday, 16 July 2015 11:01

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK: Beer industry should not fund wine/grape research

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A decades-old provision in Michigan’s liquor laws has many of the state’s craft brewers crying in their beers.

And for good reason.

Their license fees, however nominal, go to fund agricultural research and promotion of the state’s grape and wine sector — not the beer industry or its agricultural supply chain of hops and barley.

The reason: That’s the way the law was set up decades ago when lawmakers were looking to give the state’s wine industry a boost. And they don’t feel the need to change course now.

The licensing issue came to light a few weeks ago when Bell’s Brewery Inc. founder Larry Bell brought it up during a roundtable discussion MiBiz convened with executives in the craft beverage industry. Bell said that in his 30 years in business, the practice never sat right with him, yet when he tried to push for reform, his concerns were brushed aside — even among industry peers.

[RELATED: Brewers bemoan paying state fees that fund wine industry]

But that tide appears to be changing.

For starters, there’s the fairness issue of one industry (beer) funding the promotion of a competing sector (wine), and the competition between the two sectors is real. In recent years, wine (and cider, for that matter) has made inroads to draft sales, typically by displacing beer on tap handles. According to data from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, bulk wine sales — i.e., wine being packaged in kegs — has doubled since 2011.

Additionally, Michigan craft brewers are starting to think more holistically about their industry, really taking a farm-to-glass approach. They realize quality Michigan-made craft beer starts with quality ingredients, and the more local those inputs are, the better.

Certainly the state’s small, but expanding hops and barley growers could use some research help as they basically create the industry from scratch — much like the brewers themselves did, or even the vintners before them.

Perhaps Founders Brewing Co. President Dave Engbers summed up the issue best during an interview this month with staff writer John Wiegand.

“This is really just one of those things that as our industry is growing, I think it’s time to change,” Engbers said. “Anything we can do to help the entire industry from an agricultural standpoint (is good) because ultimately, better ingredients make better beer.”

There’s no arguing that better beer positions Michigan’s growing craft beer industry to be healthier and more robust — and to create more jobs in cities and towns across the state. Now’s the time for the state to rethink the funding earmark to make sure the industry paying the fee gets to feel the benefit from their investment.

Read 2588 times Last modified on Tuesday, 21 July 2015 09:53

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