I had an interesting day earlier this week. Actually, it was a series of interesting days. Actually, that series of interesting days was an intense couple of weeks.
Along with Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Carlos Brito, Brewers Association CEO Bob Pease, National Beer Wholesalers Association CEO Craig Purser, American Antitrust President Dr. Diana Moss, and Molson Coors CEO Mark Hunter, I was asked to testify in the United States Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competitive Policy, and Consumer Rights hearing entitled “Ensuring Competition Remains on Tap: The ABInBev/SABMiller Merger and the State of Competition in the Beer Industry,” which was held on December 8.
On the surface of things, many would reasonably ponder the question: Why the hell is J. Wilson among this panel weighing in on the rightness or wrongness of the largest beer merger of all time?
I know I asked myself this question a few times. But for me, the answer was easier to find. Yes, I’ve volunteered, judged, written, and worked in the industry for many years, though many others have done the same, and to higher levels of success. Many others could have ably taken my seat at the table yesterday. The answer is simple: for the last year and a half, I’ve served as Minister of Iowa Beer for the Iowa Brewers Guild. In that time, I’ve pursued legislative agendas at both the state and federal levels. In so doing, I’ve gotten to know my congressman and senators. And Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) is the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. My work has harvested the desired effect: when a beer issue came up, and Grassley needed to gain insight into this industry, he called me.
The issue that came up was a hundred billion dollars’ worth of huge, drawing media attention all around the globe. And so there would be a hearing. And so would I please come testify on behalf of brewers?
Yes, of course. Because I’m a good soldier. Because I believe in the craft brewing industry. And because it would be a great way to honor my junior high social studies teacher, Mr. Jones, who passed away a few years ago.
Boots on the ground
So what’s the behind the scenes look like? What did I do?
I read. I consulted with the IBG Board for guidance on their perspective. I read. I wrote. I had conversations with wholesalers in Iowa and at the national level, brewers around the country, brewers guild colleagues from other states, senate staffers, and Bob Pease of the Brewers Association.
Many phone calls. Many emails. Many keystrokes. I read, researched, and I wrote.
My tasks were these: submit a written testimony, deliver a five-minute oral testimony, and be prepared to field questions from the committee members. I read. I wrote. I read. I’d been laying some minor groundwork for myself (or some Iowa brewer/brewery owner if that’s who the staffers preferred to have) on and off for a week or so, but the laser became more focused once the schedule solidified on last Tuesday, rather than sometime in January, which had been a possibility. During that final week, I put in 10 or 12 hours a day, knocked out finishing touches over the weekend, and let me tell you, it was fun as hell.
My testimony was due 24 hours before the hearing, but as my flight left at 5 a.m. on Monday, I made a final push last weekend (and leaned on my awesome proofreader of a wife), and hit “send” on that email Sunday night so I could turn in early. (But not before sorting out which clothes I could/should wear—that was the hard part for this t-shirt-and-jeans guy.)
I hardly slept. I felt a little bit of pressure, but honestly, I can’t go to sleep at 7 p.m., and I worried that my alarm wouldn’t do its job at 2 a.m., as was necessary because of my distance to the airport. I tossed and turned, and just as I fell asleep, I was jarred awake by the “quack, quack, quack” of my alarm. But it worked! I would be on time! And I could simply sleep on the plane.
I did. Bob, the BA’s team of lawyers (Dave, Art, and Mark), and I convened for our preparation on Monday afternoon. We read our testimonies aloud. The lawyers pelted us with potential questions. We read our testimonies aloud. The lawyers pelted us with potential questions.
And then we went to Right Proper Brewing Company for dinner and some beers. I went to bed early. And I slept like a rock.
The next morning, the day of the hearing, I read my testimony a few more times for good measure and confined my coffee intake to one cup so I wouldn’t have to pee during the hearing. (Success!) And then Bob and I met briefly with Senator Grassley, who had requested a short conversation before the hearing. And then the gavel fell.
Introductions. A swearing in. Opening statements. Questions. Questions. Questions.
Understandably, most of the questions were directed at Brito, but I fielded a few and felt good about my performance. And then it was done. A media interview or two. A tweet or two. A text message or two. And then the airport and two and a half hours of delays in Chicago.
Thank you, O’Hare International Airport! Had you been running smoothly, it would have taken me weeks to get this post up.
This was a rare and delightful experience, and I appreciate the opportunity to have been a part of it. I am thankful to Grassley, for my job, for my wife, and the many, many others who contributed to my final testimony. It was a lot of work, but made for an interesting day in the life of a beer blogger, and a career highlight that I don’t imagine will be repeated. Is it all downhill from here? No, I’d get bored if I let that happen. I’ll figure out something else cool to do. And, as always, you’re invited to come along…