By Jeff Maisey
The Virginia Craft Brewers Guild held its winter meeting in Richmond at Capital Ale House, where it was announced the Commonwealth’s craft brewery industry had surpassed 100 businesses. The Guild is a subsidiary of the Virginia Manufacturers Association.
I caught up with Brett Vassey, President and CEO of Virginia Manufacturers Association, to learn more of his plans to further strengthen the beer industry.
What are the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild’s big initiatives for 2015?
The first big initiative for 2015, for us, is to standardize tasting room regulations to improve safety. The second is to expedite labeling, particularly for seasonal products. Third is to deal with social media advertising verses First Amendment free speech/public communications. Those are three important regulatory issues for us to deal with.
The second major activity is to improve tourism around beer exploration. We want to substantially improve the social media through an app, through expanded work with the Virginia Tourism Corporation and local beer trails, and increase exposure of our really small brewers across the state for tourists who just want to drive around and taste.
Another important issue, it seems, is to have more consistent ABC enforcement across the Commonwealth. Is this something you are addressing as well?
That’s part of the reason we’re working with ABC on those first three items, to try to help create a standard set of guidelines on tasting rooms, tasting areas, social media and labeling across the state. That way these companies have predictability. And ABC is committed to that goal.
What specific changes are you working on related to social media?
We have not formulated all that we want. What we’re trying to accomplish is to have a clear separation of First Amendment free speech corporate communication and advertising. There is a way to do that, but unfortunately social media – like Facebook – blurs those lines, and regulators aren’t really sure what to do so it’s easy just to say no. We’re trying to get that clarified and uniform.
So far it has been very positive in the initial conversations. We’re still six months to a year before we’ll have a final conclusion because we’re going to have to include retailers, beer wholesalers, the whole alcohol market in this solution.
We now have 101 craft breweries operating in Virginia. Where do you see the industry going in the next three to five years?
We predicted that because of Senator Jeffrey McWaters’ SB604, in 2012, that improved the opportunities for craft brewers to sell onsite, we think within the next three years we’ll have 150 breweries. In February, we announced the 101st mark. That is a monumental achievement. We went from about 40 to 101since SB604 passed. It proves that good legislation can open up markets.