CA Assembly Select Committee Holds First Informational Hearing on California Craft Beer

Ryan Graham_Natalie Cilurzo_Select Cmte. on Craft Brewing & Distilling 518 06-17-15

The Select Committee on Craft Brewing and Distilling (Levine, Chair) held an informational public hearing at the State Capitol last week focusing on the California craft brewing industry.

Testifying in front of the committee was Tom McCormick, executive director of the CCBA who spoke on the history of the state’s craft brewing industry, current state of the industry and the regulatory structure that craft brewers operate under. Tom stressed the importance of self-distribution and retail privileges for beer manufacturers in California, stating that without these privileges, the “industry as we know it today would not exist.” He also commented on the continuing growth in the industry by saying that “on average, two new breweries are opening each week” in the state.

Tom was followed by Dr. Bart Watson, chief economist from the Brewers Association. Bart gave a detailed and compelling talk on the continuing growth and future growth potential of the industry in California. “I think there is a lot of room for growth here in California,” Bart said. “If the entire state of California” had the same per capita ratio of breweries as does San Diego, “there would be 1,250 breweries in California.”

Well-known brewing professor Charlie Bamforth, president of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling at UC Davis discussed the “art and science” of brewing and the importance of training and education in the development and success of the craft brewing industry. “There are now about 25-30 organizations, colleges and universities who want to teach brewing” in the US, said Charlie. But UCD is the leader of them all, having “written the textbook.” The university has a long brewing history. Charlie mentioned that “brewing was first taught at UCD in 1958, when the Lucky Lager brewery gave a donation to the university.”

The hearing concluded with Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner & president of Russian River Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa and Ryan Graham, owner/brewmaster at Track 7 Brewing Co. in Sacramento. Both told the interesting stories behind starting up a small brewery, the struggle of the early days and how growth through self-distribution and retail sales helped to propel them to grow their businesses into thriving and expanding enterprises.

Natalie talked about the now internationally known Pliny the Younger release in February each year. The two week release of this double IPA brings 13,000 people to the brewery, 65% of which are tourists coming from 26 different states and 5 different countries according to an economic impact study conducted by the county of Sonoma. “The total economic impact of a two week period of our one little beer was $2.4 million. Not bad for a little beer. Beer tourism is thriving!”

Ryan discussed the quick path of growth that Track 7 has experienced in Sacramento. In just three years, the brewery is on pace to produce 12,000 barrels annually and has recently opened up a second larger production plant to meet demand.

The Select Committee on Craft Brewing and Distilling was formed earlier this year and consists of eleven members of the state Assembly.