By Robert Evatt
The fight over Oklahoma’s beer laws has caused Anheuser-Busch, maker of some of the most popular beers in the country, to withdraw its membership from Beer Distributors of Oklahoma, an advocacy group for beer distributors in the state.
The Beer Distributors of Oklahoma countered by accusing Anheuser-Busch of laying off employees at the Premium Beers of Oklahoma distributorship in Oklahoma City after purchasing it from the Cresap family three years ago.
In a news release issued by Anheuser-Busch, the company said “our definition of and path toward modernization does not align with the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma.”
Eric James, senior director for sales and marketing for Anheuser-Busch of Oklahoma, did not specify the nature of the company’s dispute with the distributors group. Instead, he specified what the company would like to see happen in Oklahoma.
“Anheuser-Busch would like to see cold, single-strength beer available to consumers in Oklahoma,” he said.
Currently, Oklahoma law dictates beer sold outside of liquor stores must be no stronger than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight. Beer sold in liquor stores can be stronger, but cannot be refrigerated.
Oklahoma is one of only five states that require the sale of 3.2 beer in certain circumstances, with the others including Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Minnesota.
James said changing that law would give the opportunity for brewers to sell a greater variety of beer, and give consumers more choice.
“We feel that, after careful consideration, it’s in our best interest to separate from the BDO,” James said. “This gives us the freedom and flexibility to move forward on our views of modernization.”
The Beer Distributors of Oklahoma responded in an emailed statement, saying Anheuser-Busch’s move came as “no surprise.”
“With the recent losses of the Monster and Constellation brands, the two Anheuser-Busch owned distributorships in Oklahoma City and Tulsa have been losing market share and struggling to execute in the marketplace while at the same time trying to control costs through reductions in Oklahoma jobs,” the statement said.
The BDO statement also accused Anheuser-Busch of selling beer against its own independent distributors in the same territory.
The statement also said the BDO believes voters should decide what kind of modernization would come to beer distributors.
“The BDO is committed to providing all Oklahomans with their choice of beer, strong or low point, through an open and independent distribution system,” the statement said.
The move does not affect the availability of Anheuser-Busch products in the state.
Anheuser-Busch, a subsidiary of Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev since 2008, brews brands including Budweiser, Michelob, Rolling Rock, Busch, Shock Top, LandShark, Goose Island, Blue Point, 10 Barrel and Elysian.
A push to loosen the beer laws is already underway. Senate Bill 383, put forward by Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, would allow single-strength, cold beer. The Oklahoma legislature sent it to a conference committee before ending the session.
Robert Evatt
Twitter: @robertevatt