We’ve written previously on how craft brewery guilds can help you with advocacy, education, and more. With over three hundred breweries in the state, Illinois is home to many breweries looking to establish their footprint in the industry statewide, regionally, and nationally.
Formed in 1997, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild helps the state’s breweries achieve their lofty aspirations, whether big or small. We chatted with Executive Director Ray Stout to learn about the guild’s mission, goals, benefits, and events and how to join.
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What Is the Mission of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild?
Stout explains that the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild has roughly eighty-five percent membership for the three hundred and two breweries in the state. Quick math puts that number around two hundred and fifty-seven members.
Stout still emphasizes, though, that the guild represents all the breweries across the state.
“Our mission is to provide advocacy, education, and promotion for the three hundred and two breweries in the state,” he says.
The guild explains further on its website that for legislative and regulatory advocacy, the guild pushes “for legislation that enables growth and expansion while working to ease unnecessary regulatory restrictions on the state’s craft breweries.”
Regarding education, the guild provides technical seminars and conferences and informs consumers about the industry and the state’s breweries and how to imbibe responsibly, according to the website.
And the guild also holds festivals and neighborhood tasting events as a means to promote the industry and breweries, maintaining connections with loyal fans, and potentially creating new ones, the website says.
What Are the Goals of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild in 2024?
Stout says a lot is in motion for the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild in 2024, most of which involve advocating for legislative bills.
One of the primary petitions they are working on is modernizing Illinois craft beer.
“A number of states have modernized liquor codes, and that’s something we’re interested in looking into,” Stout says, noting that earlier this term, the Biden administration urged states to look into these franchise laws.
The modernization petition touches on several bullet points, including an all-encompassing improvement to help craft breweries survive in the changing economy.
“Craft brewery sales have stabilized, but they are definitely below pre-pandemic sales,” Stout says. “The outlook for brewers to move to a traditional distro model is not attractive for some of our members. Here in Illinois, about eighty percent make less than five hundred barrels of beer a year.”
He adds, “The model doing well here is on-site brewpubs where breweries can sell other beer, wine, and spirits. That tends to be driving breweries.”
Other bullets in the petition include legalizing mug clubs and rewards programs, letting breweries donate to nonprofits, removing cumbersome reporting requirements, and expanding the beer showcase permits, allowing craft breweries to participate in community-building events.
“We are working closely with legislative partners to push these through,” Stout says.
Another regulation the guild is working closely on is increasing the transfer cap on Class 2 breweries. Essentially, these breweries with multiple locations can only transfer up to 1,000 barrels of beer from their production location to their second location. Beyond that, it gets wonky.
“They have to sell to a distributor and buy it back from their second location at a huge markup,” Stout explains. “The margins in craft beer are incredibly slim. So having to pay a thirty percent markup on your own beer is ludicrous.”
The guild proposes an increased cap of 4,500 barrels annually. Additionally, the guild hopes to increase self-distribution caps of up to 200 barrels for Class 3 breweries, which act as brewpubs.
“We wouldn’t have three hundred breweries in Illinois if it wasn’t for self-distribution. It’s helped the industry thrive,” Stout says. “We have breweries that want to move to traditional [Class 3] brewpubs but can’t rely on limited distribution. We are working to bring that up.”
The guild wants to raise the cap from 200 to 2,500 barrels per year.
“These are all pieces we are optimistic to move on [next year],” he says. “We have a lot of support.”
In addition to all the forward-thinking legislation, Stout says this year they’ve already had two pieces of legislation submitted: The Beer Omnibus Bill (House Bill 3423 and Senate Bill 2216) and the Direct-to-Consumer Beer Shipping Bill (House Bill 3020 and companion Senate Bill 2193).
What Are the Benefits for Illinois Craft Brewers Guild Members?
Stout says there are several benefits guild members receive throughout the year, including four quarterly meetings that feature education seminars and serve as a forum to network with others.
“We also started our Illinois Brewing Magazine, which has brewery maps and stories about breweries,” he says. The magazine lives on the guild’s website and at all member breweries and some bottle shops across the state. “It’s pretty cool.”
Members also have the first crack at all the festivals put on throughout the year, as well as access to the guild’s legal and public relations team.
Stout says that if a brewery needs something, “We have a team ready, willing, and able to help.”
While Stout says all the benefits mentioned above are great, that’s not even the top perk.
“The biggest part [to me] is you [the brewery] are part of the decision-making process,” he says. “We spend every waking moment to help the industry get better.”
The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild Events You Can’t Miss This Year
The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild’s biggest event of the upcoming year just passed: The Festival of Wood Barrel-Aged Beer, or FoBAB. The annual event occurs every November at the University of Illinois at Chicago Credit Union 1 Arena.
Stout says in 2024, they will have their annual conference in March in Bloomington, Illinois.
“This year, we’re focusing on people walking out with certifications and credentials,” he says, citing CPR and forklift certifications and becoming a certified beer pourer.
“It’s a special event,” he says.
Other events scheduled for next year, Stout says, are a series of community-based beer festivals called Friday Night Flights.
How to Join the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild
For the fifteen percent of the breweries in the state that haven’t yet signed up to reap the benefits of the guild or any allied industry, signing up is just a couple of clicks away.
Visit the guild website, IllinoisBeer.org, and click on the membership button. There, you’ll find the membership options. Stout says that these memberships help the guild continue its fight for breweries’ rights, but the perks aren’t limited to just the companies making the beer.
He says, “If you’re an allied industry and want access to breweries, this is perfect for you.”