Paul Gatza started working for the Brewers Association (BA) in 1998, an organization he hadn’t even known existed just a few years before he joined them. Now Director of the division of BA for professional brewers, he was originally recruited to head up the American Homebrewers Association (AHA), the division of BA dedicated to amateur brewers.
We’re grateful that Paul took time from his busy schedule to share his story about being a leader in an association that has helped the craft brewing market grow and thrive.
Walsworth: Who is the Brewers Association?
Paul: The Brewers Association is made up of a voting membership of over 4,000 brewers. Other parts of the membership include suppliers, such as malt and hop companies, beer distributors and retailers. They represent key segments of a market made up of approximately 7,000 craft breweries in the United States.
There are around 46,000 members in the American Homebrewers Association. And the organization as a whole employs 64 employees, mostly located at our headquarters in Boulder, Colorado.
Can you help me understand the difference between the BA and the AHA?
The BA is for professional businesses, specifically those brewers required to pay excise taxes, licensing costs, etc.
The AHA is for hobbyists who brew beer at home simply because they love beer and want to experiment with the brewing process. Of course, many professional brewers have come from the amateur ranks.
Is it safe to assume that the BA has impacted the general public’s awareness of craft brewing?
Yes. People see craft beers in stores, restaurants and concert venues. So, in terms of the consciousness of the American public, people are very aware of the craft brewing scene on the professional side.
There are probably more than a million people brewing beer at home in the US currently, with many others who have brewed beer at home sometime in the past. But unless a person brews at home or has friends who do, they’re probably not that aware of what is happening on the home brewing scene.
What are some of the things the BA has done for craft brewers?
The most recent big accomplishment for the BA was to facilitate the approval of a 2-year excise tax reduction. While all businesses pay taxes, there are extra taxes for the alcohol industry. The BA worked with government agencies to approve the reduction, which is almost a 50 percent savings from the previous excise tax rates. This has meant craft brewers have additional budget to invest more in their infrastructure and employees.
The BA also works with state brewers guilds, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other regulatory agencies.
The three main parts of the BA’s mission are to:
- Promote craft brewing,
- Provide technical assistance to help brewers brew better, and
- Provide legal and general business assistance to help brewers be successful, whether it’s gaining access to markets or maintaining access to suppliers and raw ingredients.
What have been some of the business challenges the BA has helped with?
A good example would be an education campaign the BA created when the FDA published a proposal to heavily regulate the handling of spent grains as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Our education program was successful in convincing the FDA that the age-old process of transferring spent grain from breweries back to farmers was safe and effective. The result was that the FDA withdrew the proposal, relieving brewers of a regulation that would have been an expensive burden on their businesses.
Tell me about the publications the BA makes available.
The BA has a book publishing division called Brewers Publications, and we release two or three books per year. Our distributor for those is the National Book Network. We also supply homebrew supply shops with these books.
Even at a time when brewing information is all over the internet, we’re still growing our publication offerings. The mission of our information to help people brew better beer is very niche, so that helps. If you’re in the brewing scene you really want our information and the best practices we’re providing.
We also publish two magazines. The New Brewer for professional brewers and Zymurgy Magazine for amateur brewers.
We’re very happy with our partnership with Walsworth as our magazine printer. With all aspects of communication, quality, timeliness and consistency, that relationship is going very well for us.
We also publish a myriad of technical brewing pieces related to things like brewing safety or draft brew quality. These publications can be anything from a one-page white paper, to a 40-page manual on beer server training for brewpubs, to a 100-page manual on sustainability opportunities for craft brewers.
So, we do a lot of publishing, and our creative department helps ensure the information is presented in a polished and professional way.
How has the BA influenced the public’s attitude about craft brewing?
The BA has worked with the media for decades to help make beer brewing more accessible to the public, and to be understood as an agricultural product made in local manufacturing facilities.
When I first heard you could make your own beer, I was shocked. The revelation changed my life.
Back in the late 1980s, this was a mystery to me and most of the public, but now it’s widely understood and we see local breweries everywhere, popping up all over the place.
A positive shift in public attitude has come about because local breweries have become community meeting hubs and an important component of their local economy.
You see a lot of taprooms around the country now where you can go into establishments that have brewing going on in the back and have a public space in the front where families, and sometimes even their dogs, are hanging around enjoying beer, socializing and tossing cornhole or whatever.
It’s great to see local breweries become community hubs, and I think they’ve prompted a big shift in attitude because people can touch breweries now and experience these community connections themselves.
How did you get from not knowing you could brew your own beer to working for the Brewers Association?
Well, I was working for a non-profit environmental group back in the 1980s when I first heard you could make your own beer. I was chatting while shooting pool one night when I scratched the table felt and exclaimed, “What? You can make your own beer?” And, by the next morning I was already starting my first brewing attempt.
Then, in the early 1990s, I started working at Boulder Beer here in Colorado, as well as a local homebrew supply shop. I bought into the supply shop, and while I was an owner there, we opened up a second shop, and that kind of put me on a career path.
The association recruited me in 1998 to run the homebrewers side where I was also publisher of Zymurgy Magazine for a few years. Then I took leadership of the professional brewers division in 2001 and handed over the homebrewers division in 2005.
We’ve been growing a lot as an association, with an annual budget that has gone from under $3 million at the turn of the century to around $30 million today.
Since craft brewing is growing so much, what has the BA been doing to grow membership?
We’ve found the most effective thing is offering a personal touch, connecting with brewers individually.
One of the areas we focus on is trying to retain members as they go from planning a craft brewery to actually running an operational brewery. You know, when somebody is in the planning stage for a new business, they’re looking for resources, and they have money then to invest in things like association membership to get the information they need.
But as soon as they flip the switch and become operational, they’re pretty much broke because their money is going toward the next piece of equipment, like a new tank. Or they’re buying hops and barley to make beer with.
And so we spend a lot of time giving personal attention to brewers who are just opening up, and we have one staff member dedicated to onboarding them so they understand the resources the BA offers and how membership is a critical part of their new business being successful.
Are there membership growth tactics you’ve used that have worked better or worse than expected?
We make our staff available to state brewers guilds and have a set of ambassadors who give talks on specific areas of the brewing industry. For example, we have a Quality Ambassador, a Sustainability Ambassador, a Safety Ambassador, a Diversity Ambassador, etc. We send these people all around the country to speak at state guild meetings and state conferences for brewers.
I don’t think of it as a tactic for membership development, but it has really helped in that area. And, it’s helped us provide that personal touch I mentioned before, keeping people connected with our association.
Since many new breweries are tiny, many use life savings to get up and running. We understand that membership is competing with buying that next piece of equipment or another box of hops or barley.
Tell me a little about your typical day as association Director.
I travel around 75 days a year to various industry conferences and technical meetings where we’re networking with people and organizations that impact the beer industry.
When I’m in my office, I generally start my day by reading about what’s going on in the brewing world so I know what’s going on out there. Then I focus my day on internal projects, staff management, and a lot of meetings to make sure we’re all on the same page and are making the decisions that will help our help our member brewers be successful. I try communicating face-to-face whenever possible, rather than through my computer.
At 4:30 in the afternoon, we open up our staff bar at the office, which we spell BAr, because we’re the BA. That’s one of the benefits of working in the beer industry.
And since it’s beer, I make sure not to take myself or my job too seriously. Beer is about fun, and if we’re going to help our members sell more beer, we have to keep it fun and it can’t be serious all the time.
What have been some of your favorite projects?
One of my favorite projects is judging beer. I remember getting a call back in the early 1990s asking if I would be a judge at the Australian International Beer Awards. I’m on the phone with my mouth hanging open in surprise and saying, “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. You’re going to fly me over, put me up and feed me, and all I have to do is tell you what I think about these beers? Yeah, I’ll do that.”
Another project I got a lot of satisfaction from was when we published our draft beer quality manual. That was our first time publishing something that brought together a group of large brewers, small brewers and other technical people, and basically deciding on how draft beer should be treated in the United States. We made those decisions and published them in a 70-page booklet a decade ago, and now we’ve seen what’s actually happened in the market place with people treating draft beer so much better than they used to. That gives me a lot of personal pride.
My current favorite project is our Craft Campaign, which is a marketing campaign for craft brewers. One of the key components of the campaign is a label that certified independent craft brewers can put on their packaging. The seal’s logo contains the image of an upside down bottle with the words Independent Craft on it.
The idea is that qualifying brewers are certified as an authentic independent craft brewer so that the public can distinguish their products from those manufactured by giant conglomerate brewers promoting themselves as craft brewers.
Probably my least favorite projects are the regulatory filings. It’s really dry material with a lot of legalese dealing with anything related to labeling, advertising and regulatory rulings from the Tax and Trade Bureau or the FDA. It’s very technical and time consuming because brewing is a highly regulated industry.
Let’s talk about the future. How would you like the BA to influence what seems to be a thriving market?
The one thing we’re hoping to accomplish is the permanent reduction of the excise tax, or to at least get an extension of the savings that is currently scheduled to sunset at the end of 2019. That’s going to be a huge focus going forward.
Another thing I’m confident we will accomplish is to continue helping keep brewers in business. It’s very competitive out there with so many breweries, and there’s not enough shelf space for everyone who wants it. But we’ll be working with retail groups, with beer distributor groups, and providing resources and information to help some brewers be successful who wouldn’t make it without our efforts.
I would also expect there to be a continued share-shift from light lager and American lager, to craft beers. Over the coming years, we want to help independent craft brewers be more regularly seen and understood as a differentiator in the marketplace. I don’t think we’re there yet, since we just launched the Independent Craft Campaign last year, but within a couple of years I think it’s going to make a major difference and help craft brewers grow their sales.
Thank you to Paul for sharing his experience at the Brewers Association. You can learn more about what they do at brewersassociation.org. Be sure to check out their 2018 “The Year in Beer” for more on the industry’s growth.