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Beer Caucus Brews Up Consensus

Caucus meetings aren’t always focused on legislation: In December, Greg Engert, beer director at ChurchKey and Birch & Barley, spoke to the group about the interaction between breweries and restaurants. He discussed different ways of serving and storing beer in a restaurant.

“I was able to come in as someone who is kind of in charge and has to take care of continuing the artisanal approach after it leaves the beer house,” Engert says.

The caucus also explored commodities prices at the December meeting and how they are affecting smaller breweries. Large breweries such as Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors buy up much of the barley and hops grown in the nation. These companies have been around for decades, and they often cut special pricing deals with farmers. Because the crops that they use are guaranteed at a low price, farmers raise the price on other brewers in order to turn a better profit. Weather also affects crops, which in turn affects the prices that small brewers pay.

“There was a hop shortage, there was a barley shortage due to weather a few years ago and all of a sudden prices went really high,” Engert says. “And you can’t raise prices to deal with that. People don’t expect beer prices to change, so a lot of brewers were put in a tight spot.”

DeFazio is quick to point out that Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors are no longer American companies. A Belgian company owns the former, while a South African company owns the latter. The craft brewers that work with the caucus are all American-owned.

“Think of it this way: Our two largest brewers in America now are both foreign-owned so [the small brewers] are all domestic companies, domestically owned and mostly domestically sourced,” he says. “They’re providing manufacturing jobs, and most of the hops and malt are grown here in the U.S.”

While the Small Brewers Caucus deals with serious issues, it certainly isn’t all work and no play. After the meetings, the brewers, staffers and Members kick back and crack open a few craft beers.

“Beer, and more importantly, sharing beer with friends and strangers alike, is as American as eating a hot dog at a baseball game or waving a flag at a parade,” Rehberg says.

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