It’s kind of funny. I get a lot of questions from friends and colleagues about why I study craft beer laws and regulations. People seem to think that it is inconsequential or pedestrian in some sense. Maybe they are right in light of the social and political mess playing out before us. But I don’t think so.
It’s Big. Really Big.
According to the California Craft Brewers Association (great people BTW), there were over 750 craft breweries operating across California as of November 2016. This translates into $7.288 billion to the state’s economy, up from $6.5 billion in 2014. In addition, over 51,000 Californians owe their livelihoods to the craft-beer industry in some manner. http://www.californiacraftbeer.com/ca-craft-beer/craft-beer-statistics/. Nationwide, according to the Brewers Association, craft beer had $55.7 billion in sales for 2014 and provided more than 424,000 jobs. See https://www.brewersassociation.org/statistics/economic-impact-data/. The numbers will increase when the latest figures come out. This ain’t chump change.
Big business with big regulation = fertile legal ground across an array of legal doctrines. So while I love craft beer, it is really the confluence of legal doctrines surrounding this product that is enticing as an area of study.
It’s Rooted In The Constitution(s).
In what seems like a prior life, I used to teach English at a university. I was a huge John Steinbeck fan and taught his books whenever possible. Faculty teaching more traditional literary authors (read high-brow) might have scoffed and waived Steinbeck off as a mere author of children’s books. Similarly, the same could be said for studying craft beer laws and regulations in the legal academy. I suppose I could be labeled a simpleton.
But here’s the rub. Alcohol has not one, but two, of its very own amendments to the United States Constitution: the eighteenth and the twenty-first. Arguably, no other subject matter can make such a claim. California (and several other states) also devotes a rather long and detailed section of its Constitution to alcohol and its treatment in the state in Article Twenty, Section Twenty-Two. Those of you who went to law school know that many people consider constitutional law, in all of its iterations, the crown jewel of legal scholarship. Of course, constitutional law is extremely important to our everyday lives and our freedoms as Americans. To use a syllogism then:
- Constitutional law is an important area of study;
- Alcohol (thus craft beer) finds its regulatory genesis in constitutional law; therefore,
- Alcohol (thus craft beer) is an important area of study.
Ok fine, maybe the syllogism breaks down under serious scrutiny. But you get the point.
It’s A Diverse Topic.
Representing craft breweries and related parties requires significant nimbleness and breadth of knowledge (or willingness to learn multiple areas). To me, the most interesting topics are the three-tier system and its relevance today, as well as the interplay between the First Amendment and commercial speech regulations. But in everyday practice, a lawyer needs to be comfortable in the following areas to be an effective craft beer lawyer (in no particular order):
- Property law (leases, land use, zoning, and environmental concerns)
- Business formation (LLCs, corporations, sole proprietorships)
- Contract law (ingredient purchases, sales, distributorship agreements)
- Intellectual property (trademarks, copyright, cease and desist stuff)
- ABC regulatory practice (too many daily pitfalls to list)
- TTB practice (same)
- Advertising (First Amendment issues, particularly social media)
- Employment law (for obvious reasons)
So yeah, one has to be kind of a jack of all trades. Anyone who practices in this area will tell you that it takes a while to learn, but once you do, the reward is an interesting and wide-ranging practice area with awesome clients.
I can’t think of a better group of people to work with and interact with than those in the craft beer community. There is the occasional ego to deal with, but on the whole, craft brewers and their employees are fun loving, interesting people. When I started, many were unaware of the intricate web of laws that impact a craft brewery’s existence on a daily basis. Now, I am seeing a more sophisticated market player, well aware of the complexities and backed by investor money. In its current version (see the eighties and nineties), the industry is still a toddler. But it is growing up fast and will reach young adulthood in the next five to ten years. Guess who will need solid legal counsel.
Oh, and there might be some free beer to try on occasion.
If I sound defensive, I’m not. Craft beer is just such an interesting area to study and to watch. More and more, things are reverting to a pub society—where people meet at the local brewery to talk news, business, life, and anything else you can imagine. I’ll be there too—probably writing an article over a Mayberry IPA (find some).
Let me know what you think. Cheers.