American Beverage Licensees gathered in the nation’s capital June 8-10 to meet with their colleagues in the retail tier, Congressional Members, public officials, and industry leaders, and to learn from national experts on alcohol policy and business at the ABL Annual Conference in Washington, DC.
The conference opened on Sunday, June 8th with three sessions on legislation, regulation, and advocacy. Attorney Tony Kogut discussed the emerging importance of litigation in shaping state and federal alcohol laws. Former state alcohol regulator Pamela Erickson shared her viewpoint on why the government shapes alcohol policy. Finally, ABL Executive Director John Bodnovich briefed members on current Congressional issues of interest to beverage licensees and how they can engage in grassroots advocacy. The National Association of Beverage Importers continued their longtime tradition of sponsoring the opening reception of the ABL Conference, featuring a wide selection of imported beer.
Monday’s events began with a breakfast sponsored by 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, hosted by its founder Kieran Folliard. The day’s general session kicked off with an Industry CEO panel with Doug Hertz of United Distributors and Immediate Past Chairman of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America; Greg LaMantia of L & F Distributors and chairman of the National Beer Wholesalers Association; and Gerry Ruvo of Campari America and chairman of the Distilled Spirits Council.
Monday’s session continued with an update on traffic safety policy, with an emphasis on legal BAC initiatives and drugged driving, from attorney Stephen Talpins. A panel on industry media followed, featuring Charlie Forman from Beverage Information Group, Bill Slone of Beverage Media Group, and Joel Whitaker of Kane’s Beverage News Daily. They discussed how they cover the products and people that comprise the alcohol industry.
MillerCoors continued their longtime support of independent licensees by hosting the MillerCoors luncheon. Following the luncheon, Marc Satterthwaite of Brown-Forman joined ABL to present the Brown-Forman Retailer of the Year Award to members from ABL affiliates throughout the country.
Congressman Mark Amodei (R-NV), delivered the keynote address Monday afternoon. Highlighting the importance of oversight in governance, he spoke of the value of small business beverage retailers in the economy. He shared his experiences on the House Appropriations Committee and the lessons he learned after more than a decade in state government.
A recurring topic during the conference was the advent of legalized recreational marijuana and its effect on beverage licensees. Dan Riffle from the Marijuana Policy Project shared his organization’s goals to “tax and regulate” marijuana state-by-state. The final session of the day focused on the business of selling alcohol, with Harry Kohlmann of Park Street reviewing generational differences and the appeal of certain tastes and trends.
Monday night, attendees enjoyed a spirits tasting reception featuring dozens of products from member companies of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the ABL Top Shelf Award Banquet. The ABL Top Shelf Award, the association’s highest honor, was presented to Bill Samuels, Jr., Chairman Emeritus of Maker’s Mark, who credited independent retailers for the success of the brand. Without their support, carrying the product and “dusting off bottles for the brand’s first decade,” the now-iconic whiskey would not have survived, said Samuels.
Tuesday, ABL members turned to Capitol Hill, where they met with over fifty Congressional offices and discussed the importance of considering beverage licensees on the issues affecting them, particularly the current transportation reauthorization bill, the minimum wage, and tax issues affecting small business.
“ABL felt it was important to once again bring our conference to Washington to further our focus on the federal landscape and beverage licensees’ perspective of the industry,” said John Bodnovich, ABL’s director. “We appreciate the opportunity that the conference provides to celebrate the industry, relate to one another, and impart valuable information to our members that will help them and their businesses.”