COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — More than 300 craft brewers are banding together to launch a new advocacy campaign called the “Brewers Freedom Alliance” to lobby for a change in a law that was put in place nearly half a century ago.
“It’s an older law that I think definitely needs to be updated with this current environment we have,” said General Manager of Jackie O’s on Fourth, John Clift.
Clift has been working in craft beer for more than two decades and said it is time for change.
“I think stronger laws for producers in the state that let them be a little more nimble with today’s market,” Clift said.
Jackie O’s is one of 427 breweries in the state that contribute more than $1 billion to the state’s economy and create 12,000 jobs. The law some of those brewers want to see changed is the Ohio Alcoholic Beverages Franchise Act of 1974.
“The laws protect the rights and privileges of large beer wholesalers to the detriment of small independent breweries,” said Executive Director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, Mary MacDonald.
Opponents said the law locks small breweries into unbreakable contracts with wholesalers who help deliver beer to stores across Ohio. They said, if the wholesaler is not living up to their end of the contract, the brewers have no recourse, meaning that could hurt business and access to Ohio craft beer across the state.
“The ability to keep a producer in that contract is really rough,” Clift said. “They can change anything they want right and now. And I’ve seen it, I’ve seen them make all kinds of changes.”
Brewers like Clift said there are plenty of great wholesalers and they would not want to break their contracts with them. But, they said the problem is if someone does not hold up their end of the deal, they have to prove ‘just cause’ to terminate the contract, something that can turn into a pricy legal battle.
“It’s funny that we have these contracts that we sign that we don’t have much power to change,” Clift said.
“We want to be able to negotiate with them on equal footing,” Advocacy chair of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association John Haggerty said. “That’s it — that’s the whole ask.”
Members of the new alliance said, so far, lawmakers have been receptive to their ideas to change the law.