In 1938, the Oklahoma Malt Beverage Association was founded. About 75 years later, the advocacy organization changed its name to the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma to reflect its mission of championing the state’s predominantly family-owned, independent beer distributorships. This year, BDO is a strong supporter of SQ 792, which Oklahomans will consider on November’s ballot.
Not only do BDO members represent brands of beer from MillerCoors, but the distributors also represent large portfolios of craft brews from Oklahoma and products from all over the country and world.
Below, Brett Robinson, BDO’s current president, discusses the potential changes to Oklahoma’s beer, wine and liquor laws in light of State Question 792. Responses have been lightly edited for style and grammar.
Tell us a little about how distributors are affected by Oklahoma’s complex system of alcohol laws.
Oklahoma’s alcohol laws, like most states’, are complex. The first thing to remember about alcoholic beverages like beer is that they are different than any other consumer product and therefore must be treated as such through regulation and law enforcement.
BDO members represent the second tier of the three-tier independent-distribution system. The first tier is the brewer or manufacturer tier, and the third tier is the retailing tier, i.e. bars, restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores and liquor stores. A three-tier system ensures the independence of the distribution tier and prevents large suppliers or retailers from having an undue amount of influence in the choices of beer available to consumers in Oklahoma.
You’re also a lobbyist — gasp! — for BDO. “Lobbyist” can be a dirty word to some, but over your long career at the Capitol, what do you think the general public might not fully understand regarding the role of lobbyists and their interactions with lawmakers?
The role of a lobbyist is simply to represent his or her clients at the state Capitol and to serve as an information source for legislators on particular issues.
With the advent of term limits, there has become a rather large information or institutional knowledge gap at the Capitol. Legislators rely on lobbyists to obtain information regarding a particular industry or issue. We are there to provide that information, and at the end of the day, it is the elected officials who have the responsibility to make up their minds and subsequently cast their votes based on their beliefs.
Oklahomans will vote on State Question 792 this November, which is the culmination of many years of discussion and compromise on how best to modernize Oklahoma’s liquor laws. Can you tell us the main reasons BDO supports SQ 792?
Oklahoma has modernized its liquor laws once since Prohibition was repealed in 1959, and that was in 1984, when citizens of Oklahoma narrowly approved liquor-by-the-drink, so modernizing liquor laws in Oklahoma is not common nor is it easy.
The fact is that, in the 21st century, most states across the U.S. have embarked on some form of responsible modernization of their respective liquor laws, and it is simply time for Oklahoma to do the same in a manner that will provide responsible, safe modernization while providing more product choice and convenience to consumers. Modernization will also provide an opportunity for craft brewers and retailers to grow their businesses.
Possibly the most significant component of SQ 792 is that it will abolish 3.2 alcohol by weight (ABW) beer in Oklahoma and replace it with a single-strength beer that is measured by volume (ABV), a system that the majority of other states use. Oklahoma is one of only five states that still sells 3.2 ABW beer, and the day is coming when the major breweries will no longer produce it due to low demand. This is a major reason why BDO supports SQ 792, as it is important for our association to have a say into what type of beer is distributed and sold in the future.
What might be some other benefits that Oklahomans will see if SQ 792 passes? Are there any concerns, or were those all worked out at the Capitol before bringing the proposal to a popular vote?
There will be many benefits that consumers will enjoy if SQ 792 is approved. Along with transitioning to single-strength beer in grocery and convenience stores and liquor stores, wine will also be available in grocery and convenience stores, and refrigeration of all beer will be allowed in liquor stores. Liquor stores will also be allowed to sell up to 20 percent of their monthly sales in non-alcohol merchandise such as mixers, snacks, ice, etc.
If SQ 792 passes, then SB 383, which was passed by the legislature last session and signed by Gov. Mary Fallin, takes effect. SB 383 addresses other alcohol-related issues like small-brewer taprooms and brewpubs. With an issue as complex as alcohol modernization, discussions are sure to continue next session with regard to SB 383, and if the legislature desires to make any adjustments to it they will have that opportunity, as the effective date for SQ 792 is not until Oct. 1, 2018.
What might people be surprised to learn about the beer, liquor and wine industries in Oklahoma?
That the alcohol industry is a major economic contributor to Oklahoma in the form of providing thousands of jobs and generating millions of dollars annually in tax revenue. The industry is also actively engaged on a daily basis in preventing underage access to its products while encouraging the responsible consumption of its products by those of legal age.
In addition, Oklahoma has been home for quite some time to unique local wineries, however in the last few years the craft-beer scene in Oklahoma has exploded. Both the wine and craft-beer segments — and the consumers who enjoy them — will benefit from passage of SQ 792.
What are you hearing from the public about SQ 792?
The majority of Oklahomans I talk to and hear from support SQ 792, as they are ready for Oklahoma to embrace a safe and responsible modernization of our liquor laws. As with any ballot questions there will be pro and con segments, so that is why it is important for SQ 792 supporters, including the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma, to spread the message of why passing this state question is the right thing to do for Oklahoma’s wine and beer industry, and most importantly for Oklahoma consumers.
I believe, at the end of the day, a majority of voters will approve SQ 792.
Let’s say a reader has a busy Saturday coming up in, say, September. He or she has an OU or OSU football-watch party at noon and then some sort of dinner party that night. What are two of your favorite beers that you would recommend for those types of occasions?
I’m a big fan of Black Mesa ESB right now, so that might be my dinner choice, although I do not do beer pairings often. Beer is the adult beverage of moderation, so you can enjoy it responsibly before and after the game. On a crisp fall afternoon, whether going to a game in Norman (where I attended school) or Stillwater or attending a watch party, you’d probably see me enjoying a Dos Equis Amber Lager or a Victoria’s from Constellation.
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