Ohio Craft Brewers Retain Current Board for Law Reform Push

The member breweries of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association chose to return six representatives to their seats on the board of directors in voting taking place last month. Voters elected Alan Szuter of Wolf’s Ridge Brewing in Columbus to a second two-year term as president of the non-profit association that advocates on behalf of Ohio’s small and independent breweries.

Szuter’s second term begins as the association presses for reform of the 1974 Ohio Alcoholic Beverages Franchise Act, a law written to protect beer wholesalers from the power and influence of a handful of massive brewing conglomerates by locking breweries into lifetime distribution contracts.

Small breweries did not exist in 1974, but more than 9,000 of them are currently operating today, including 430 in Ohio. Franchise law makes these small, independent breweries subject to the same virtually unbreakable contracts as their huge competitors, creating an imbalance of power between small breweries and the wholesalers they rely on to grow their businesses.

“We have asked the Ohio Legislature to carve out craft brewers from this franchise law that was never meant for us,” Szuter testified before the Senate Finance Committee in May. “We are not asking for special protection under the law as the wholesalers did in 1974. We simply want a fairly negotiated contract between a brewery and wholesaler to be subject to established contract law, just as our contracts with every other supplier and service provider are.”

Last week, Senator Andrew Brenner introduced the Ohio Craft Brewer Freedom Act – Senate Bill 138 – which would exempt breweries making fewer than 250,000 barrels of beer per year from franchise law.

“This bill is about small business owners having the freedom and flexibility to make the best decisions for their employees, brewery and customers,” said Senator Brenner. “I’m proud to carry this legislation that I know will make Ohio an even better place to live and do business.”

Ohio Craft Brewers Association voting members also re-elected board secretary Garrett Hickey of Streetside Brewery in Cincinnati to a term ending in July 2024. Board members are term-limited to six years of service to the association. Hickey was first elected to an at-large board seat in 2018 and elevated to secretary by member vote in 2019.

Four at-large directors will reclaim their board seats on August 1, 2023: Melissa Dallas of Upside Brewing in Sylvania, Carmone Macfarlane of The Phoenix Brewing Company in Mansfield, Chris Shields of Rhinegeist in Cincinnati and Bobby Slattery of Fifty West Brewing Company in Cincinnati. Slattery will begin his third and final two-year term on the board, while Dallas, Macfarlane and Shields each enter their second terms.

“Our breweries have given our board a huge vote of confidence as we continue the difficult push to reform franchise law,” said Mary MacDonald, executive director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association. “Consistency of leadership and vision within the organization is a big asset during this crucial time.”

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