A HIGH-TEMPERATURE WASHDOWN STATION TO MEET YOUR HIGH-EFFICENCY PRODUCTION NEEDS

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

(Warminster, PA USA) In food processing, dairy, beverage, chemical, petrochemical, and pharmaceutical facilities, maintaining a clean environment is critical to consistent product quality. To keep production running on time, high temperature washdown stations are used to quickly and efficiently clean and sanitize equipment in place. For facilities with a hot and cold water supply, the HCX Water/Water Washdown Station is an excellent solution.

The washdown station utilizes two individual globe valves to mix hot and cold water to a user adjusted temperature. Output temperature is clearly displayed on the integrated temperature display gauge for operational simplicity.

To prevent accidental scalding, the unit is offered with our unique SmartFlow feature. “This is an in-line, over-temperature safety valve whose only purpose is to keep your employees safe,” Nick Tallos, ThermOmegaTech®’s VP of Engineering commented. “It automatically stops flow if the unit’s output exceeds a specified temperature – 125°F, 135°F or 145°F depending on the model selected.”

The unit functions completely mechanically and requires no outside source of electricity to operate. Compact, reliable, and cost-effective, the HCX Washdown Station is a beneficial addition to any facility.

About ThermOmegaTech®:

For over 35 years, ThermOmegaTech® has been a leader in the design and manufacture of self-actuated thermostatic technology. Founded in 1983, ThermOmegaTech® is a privately held organization with 40,000 square feet of manufacturing and office facility located near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The company provides innovative solutions for a wide range of applications including freeze & scald protection, mixing & diverting, steam traps, thermal bypass, tepid water delivery, washdown, balancing, drain tempering, and many other applications where temperature control is critical. Key industries it serves include railroad, commercial plumbing, aerospace & defense and industrial. Over 95% of its products are manufactured, calibrated, and tested in-house. R&D, prototype development, and integrated solutions are managed on site. ThermOmegaTech® has been ISO 9001 certified for over a decade and its products are distributed and used worldwide.

For more information, please email ThermOmegaTech® at valves@thermomegatech.com.

ThermOmegaTech®, Inc.

353 Ivyland Road

Warminster, PA 18974

Phone: 877-379-8258

Website: www.ThermOmegaTech.com

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/thermomegatech Twitter: @thermomegatech  

Advice from Beyond the Grave: Distribution for Small Breweries

By: Eric Myers

When Mystery Brewing Company closed in 2018, it was difficult to articulate to people outside the company where things had gone wrong. We looked like a successful company from the outside; we had a well-attended pub and restaurant, we frequently won awards for our beer in both local and national competitions, and in general things looked great.

  We made the mistake many small businesses – particularly small breweries – make in having a debt load that outsized our resources. We were stretched too thin. It took months of introspection after the business closed for me to understand where things had really gone awry.

  What you’re missing in that picture is distribution. At our peak, we were distributed throughout our state of North Carolina to hundreds of grocery stores, convenience stores, bottle shops, bars, and restaurants. When we closed, we were self-distributing mostly draft beer in a 75-mile radius from the brewery.

  I now put the blame squarely on my own basic misunderstanding of what to realistically expect from my distributor, as well as their fundamental misunderstanding of what we needed and, what’s more, their misunderstanding of what they were actually offering us – or anyone.

  With the help of our distributor, we saw success in distribution into large grocery store chains in our state. Unfortunately, as a small brewery, we couldn’t handle the demand from those grocery stores. We picked up a loan to help meet that demand, but before we were able to put the pieces in place, we lost our placement in those grocery stores. We were weighed down with debt without a market to sell the expanded volume we had put into place. We could never recover those lost sales and ended up closing our doors in the face of rising costs – in ingredients, rent, and the cost of distribution – when we got to a point where we could no longer service our debt.

  It all tracks back to our relationship with our distributor.

Distributors As Sales Companies

  For years after Prohibition, beer was sold exclusively through the three-tier system: the mandated split of manufacturing, delivery, and retail sales of alcohol. The role of each tier was very clearly defined, and as beer manufacturers consolidated through the 20th Century, the role of sales could be taken on by distribution partners whose portfolio was primarily comprised of one brewery’s products. Distribution partners could essentially function as a brewery’s sales force: a mid-sized middleman industry built to act as logistics handlers between a large manufacturer’s output and the thousands of widely distributed small retail outlets.

  Enter the craft beer industry – a ragtag gaggle of creative innovators that disrupted traditional sales channels. From the first brewpub in the country, Bert Grant’s Yakima Brewing Company in 1982, to changes in distribution and franchise laws around the country, to the onset of the current popular “taproom-only” model, small breweries have been in the business of changing how beer is sold almost constantly.

  When Mystery Brewing Company opened in 2012, we were on the early end of the “taproom-only” trend. Because our local laws allowed it, we opened on a plan of self-distribution in our local area and selling what we could through our own taproom. At the time, I considered it a hybrid model between Production Brewery and Brewpub and it worked! We saw distribution success that quickly outgrew our ability to deliver on our own given our level of resources, and so before long we started looking at distributors to help shoulder the load.

  When I was contacted by the first distributor I worked with – an independent distributor (ie, not affiliated with either Anheuser-Busch or MillerCoors, primarily imported beers either from other states or other countries) – the title of the person that I talked to was “Statewide Sales Manager.” Her previous job was “Southeast Regional Sales Manager,” and she later went on to work for another distributor as “General Manager of Sales and Marketing”. After Mystery closed, I would often wonder how I was so confused about the role of distributors in the beer marketplace, but looking retrospectively suggests to me that the distributors were equally as confused.

  Later, when the relationship with that distributor soured and I moved onto the next, much larger distributor, we frequently met with the Sales team to train them on our products. We had Sales Goals in place. We had brewery reps on staff that would interface with those Sales Reps, but we weren’t allowed to do our own sales. We were required to turn over any potential customers to the distributor for their reps to handle and close the deal.

  Here’s the problem. Distributors don’t do sales. They do logistics.

Distributors are Logistical Experts

  According to the Brewers Association and the National Beer and Wine Wholesaler’s Association, over the course of the last 40 years the number of breweries in the country has gone from just over 70 to just over 7,000. Over that same time, the number of distributors has fallen from just over 4,500 (64 distributors per brewery) handling, on average, around 100 – 200 SKUs each to around 3,000 (.4 distributors per brewery) handling, on average, well over 1,000 SKUs each. The idea that any distributor rep working could know and sell any more than a small percentage of their portfolio is laughable.

  Distributors, on the other hand, are incredible logistics companies. Our primary distributor, through most of the life of our business, was a statewide distributor that handled thousands of SKUs across North Carolina and in most cases (ie – except for really rural customers), would perform overnight delivery anywhere in the state. They had one central warehouse that stored the majority of their products. That warehouse would send trucks to each of its 7 branches every single night based on orders put into the system each night. Those trucks would arrive at each location and loads would get broken down into individual delivery trucks that would go out from those branch locations and delivery every day of the week. It was breathtakingly complex.

  Distributors are experts at off-premise sales. Over the course of the past 70 years, grocery store chains have come to rely on distributors to both stock and manage their beer sections from product selection to daily stocking of shelves. Distributors don’t so much sell to grocery stores so much as they ensure that the grocery stores always have something on the shelves to sell. It is incredibly difficult for self-distributing breweries – small business partners that only represent one product – to compete with the efficiency of a distribution company in a grocery stores.

  If not for distributors, it’s hard to imagine the national craft breweries that we have today even existing. A startup in the 1980s, building a brewery out of cast-off dairy equipment had no way of possessing the knowledge, much less the resources to create or satisfy demand for its beers over the breadth of the country that was required at that time.

  It’s why it’s so seductively simple for small breweries to fool themselves into think that distributors inhabit the same role they used to. It’s the way they’ve been taught to think of distributors – and it’s the way distributors think of themselves.

Breweries Drive Sales

  This all might seem obvious to large breweries with wide distribution networks, but the majority of breweries in this country are small – they are 400bbls annually on average. Many are undercapitalized and understaffed, stretched thin, barely making payments on outsized debt. It’s easy to look to a distributor for relief, to take work off of your hands, but that’s not what they’re there for.

  In my current role, managing Tavern Operations at Durham’s Fullsteam Brewery, I work with 7 different companies to manage cider, guest beers, wine, and other non-alcoholic beverages. The only ones that sell to me – that approach me with new products and attempt to make a sale – are self-distributing breweries, cideries, and wineries. The distributors are order-takers and delivery-makers. That has become their role as their portfolios are too large to know and as their customer base is too wide to service personally.

  Learn from my mistake: As a small brewery, you are your own best asset when it comes to representing your brand. Use a distributor to increase your reach, but do so knowing the extra cost – that they will take a portion of your income AND require extra brewery staff to manage sales. More than that, set that expectation up front with your distributor so that you both agree what their role is, and yours. Distributors can manage off-premise and chain accounts for you in a way that can be transforming and positive, but they have no incentive to manage your supply, only deplete it, so be sure that you can handle the demand – or grow safely to meet it – before you take that step.

  Distributors are not your friends and they’re not your sales force. They’re a tool in your toolbox. Use them wisely.

YIKES! $2,600,000 Fine Against a Beer Wholesaler

By: Dan Minutillo, Esq., Minutillo Law

In March 2019, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the Court) affirmed a $2.6 million dollar fine against Craft Brewers Guild (CBG), a wholesaler. The reason, alleged violation of anti-price discrimination statutes and other commercial bribery regulations.

Allegations

  CBG allegedly paid companies money as a rebate in exchange for an agreement to sell CBG product at bars and restaurants. To hide the payments, these companies allegedly billed CBG for services like marketing support and promotional services that never happened.

  The Court held that CBG violated commercial bribery regulations  and participated in a commercial bribery scheme to encourage retailers to supply CBG distributed products. The Court held that this type of commercial bribery falls with the purpose of the Massachusetts Liquor Control Act. CBG’s conduct was allegedly illegal because the regulations prohibit companies like CBG from providing money to induce the purchase of certain alcoholic beverages. When money is given to a company to persuade that company to purchase a product, at that point there is a possible violation of these regulations.

  In the present case CBG allegedly did not offer these rebates to all retailers, and rebate amounts differed among the retailers involved so it is held responsible for violating the anti-price discrimination statutes and allegedluy also the commercial bribery regulations.

  A bribe to induce a company to do something in violation of law or anti-discrimination policies is illegal no matter what form the bribe takes or how the paper trail is structured. Rebates, refunds and other incentives to illegally induce a company to sell its products could be construed as a bribe if there is no logical and legal basis for the transfer of money. A bribe is a bribe no matter what form it appears.

US antitrust laws regulate the relationship of companies involved in a supply chain at different levels. There cannot be an arrangement by these companies to reduce competition. Courts will lift the veil behind the name of written documentation (how an agreement is titled), or even behind the words used in documents to determine whether an agreement to pay money is actually a bribe.

  The courts look to substance (the real relationship between the parties and of their conduct) over form (the words in a document). This principle holds true in many transactions when documents are drafted to embody the terms of the transaction. During litigation, substance and conduct will usually trump form (a cleaverly written document disguising a bribe or anti-competitive conduct as something else).

  Massachusetts’ commercial bribery regulations are valid, banning discounts, rebates and other inducements to buy alcohol from only one particular vendor. These regulations help to prevent price discrimination and an even, fair, competitive playing field for all craft-brewing companies trying to sell product based on quality and market price as opposed to “buying” their way to higher sales using illegal practices.

  15 U.S. Code § 13 (15 USC 13), deals with pricing and selection of customers in the supply of products. In accordance with this Code section, It is unlawful for any person engaged in sales or distribution of products either directly or indirectly, to discriminate in price between different purchasers of commodities of the same type of grade and quality of that product if the  products  are sold for use, consumption, or resale within the US if the effect of such discrimination may be substantially to lessen competition.

This Code Section Also Indicates:

   “PAYMENT OR ACCEPTANCE OF COMMISSION, BROKERAGE, OR OTHER COMPENSATION  It shall be unlawful for any person engaged in commerce, in the course of such commerce, to pay or grant, or to receive or accept, anything of value as a commission, brokerage, or other compensation, or any allowance or discount in lieu thereof, except for services rendered in connection with the sale or purchase of goods, wares, or merchandise, either to the other party to such transaction or to an agent, representative, or other intermediary therein where such intermediary is acting in fact for or in behalf, or is subject to the direct or indirect control, of any party to such transaction other than the person by whom such compensation is so granted or paid.”

  This rule does not apply if there are differences in the cost of manufacture, sale, or delivery relating to one purchaser and not to another. Also the rule does not prohibit price changes from time to time where a price change is in response to changing market conditions of the goods concerned, such as actual or imminent deterioration of perishable goods, obsolescence of seasonal goods, distress sales under court process, or sales due to the discontinuance of sales of the goods concerned. The US Federal Trade Commission has the power to stop any kind of unfair business practices including but not limited to exclusionary exclusive dealing contracts.

  Anti-bribery regulations are made, published and implemented all over the world. They are becoming more obvious in China, Ireland, and Saudi Arabia. Enforcement in other countries is somewhat irregular. Enforcement in the US is aggressive when the facts warrent investigatioin and punishment.

  The Massachuetts Supreme Judicial Court case discussed in this article will be followed closely by other jurisdictions in the US. This type of kick-back may be viewed as a form of bribery in other jurisdictions with large fines to follow. Be aware.

For more information contact…Dan Minutillo or www.minutillolaw.com

Beer & Food Pairing Dinners: Upping the Bar for Craft Breweries

By: Nan McCreary

Oenophiles have long known that wine dinners — where wine is selected and paired with a variety of foods based on complementary tastes and styles — can elevate the dining experience. Now, craft breweries are opening that door to customers who want to expand their culinary horizons with the plethora of flavors and styles of beers available on the market today.

  “We’ve been doing beer-food dinners for years, and they’re great fun for everyone,” said Ben Edmunds, partner and brewmaster at Breakside Brewery in Portland, which opened in 2010 as a restaurant and pub brewery. “The events introduce customers to a wide range of beers, plus we have an opportunity to reach a different audience than we usually have.”

  Indeed, according to the National Restaurant Association, food-and-beer pairings were listed as a top beverage trend in its “What’s Hot 2018 Culinary Forecast.”  This isn’t surprising, considering that beer — with its broad range of flavors, aromas textures, and styles — offers endless possibilities for pairing with food.  Whether it’s a light lager with a spicy Asian dish or an IPA with loaded fries and a decadent burger, the right pairing will deliver a flavor nirvana that far surpasses the flavors of each component. Ask any aficionado, and they will tell you: food makes beer better, and beer makes food better. It’s that simple.

  Like wine and food pairing dinners, beer and food events typically go through a progression of four or five courses, sometimes more if the occasion is more extravagant. Each course is paired with a different beer, depending on the strength, flavor and style and its compatibility with the food.

  According to Edmunds, each beer serving in Breakside’s dinner is five and eight ounces. The event, he said, is informal and educational. “We always have a brewery representative at the dinners to talk about the beer,” he said, “and we ask the chef to come out and introduce the food. It’s a fun way for customers to experience our beers, and from our end, we get to present our beer in an entirely different format.”

  While many customers are die-hard beer drinkers, Edmunds told Beverage Master Magazine the dinners often appeal to a wine-drinking crowd. “These events offer wine drinkers an opportunity to see how diverse and food-friendly beer can be.”  

Recently, Breakside featured wood-aged and acidic beers with lots of fruit flavors, components that are similar to those in wine. “It was a good way to challenge preconceived notions of what beer is and how it should be consumed.”

  Breakside’s dinners may seat as few as 10-to-15, or as many as 70-plus. Prices range from $35 to $120, depending on the number of courses and the complexity of the menu. The average for an all-inclusive dinner, said Edmunds, is $65 to $85. Breakside has sponsored events ranging from introductory beer pairing at gastropubs and bars, to more elaborate affairs at fine dining establishments. This year during Portland Beer Week, Breakside paired with renowned Icelandic chef Ólafur “Óli” Áugústsson, the culinary director for Portland’s forthcoming KEX hotel. The dinner featured aged and sour beers selected to complement local seafood and produce.

  Pairings, Edmunds explained, are a collaboration between brewery personnel, the restaurant’s chef, and others, such as a bar manager. “The dynamic that works best for us and leads to the best results for the consumer is for us to invite the restaurant people to our brewery and taste through a wide range of beers,” he said. “We’re lucky because we make many different styles of beer and aren’t limited to three or four options. We ask them to find the beers that inspire them, and we talk about food pairings.”

  Edmunds said that the collaborations always start with selecting the beer and then choosing a food pairing, rather than vice versa. “Once a beer is done, it’s done, and you can’t modify it. It’s easier to design a dish to a beer that’s already finished than to make a beer to complement a specific dish.”

  While the brewery generally does not interfere with the chefs once a menu is selected, occasionally they will use their expertise to “nudge” them one way or the other. For example, Edmunds said he is very particular about pairing desserts. “Even with a sweet beer, the dessert is likely to overpower it,” he told Beverage Master Magazine, “so I’ll ask the chef to do something with a savory element, like a cheese plate.”

  For Edmunds, whose interest in food preceded his interest in beer, the pairing dinners are a natural fit. “The two go hand in hand,” he said. “We also have three locations for our brewery, plus two restaurants, and we regularly do pairings when we release a new beer. The multi-course dinner is a natural extension of that.

Not Just for Breweries

  While breweries like Breakside typically collaborate with different restaurants to introduce their beers, some restaurants host regular beer and food pairing dinners to showcase the skills of their chefs. One such restaurant is the Session Room and Beer Garden in Ann Arbor, Michigan. With the theme, “Real Food, Craft Beer,” the restaurant focuses on fresh ingredients sourced locally and serves 70 rotating beer taps.

  Since opening three years ago, the restaurant, under the guidance of Executive Chef Traver Lucas, has offered pairing dinners every month or two, always featuring beers from Michigan breweries, including Bell’s Brewing, Founders Brewing Company, and Perrin Brewing Company. Like Breakside’s dinners, the Session Room pairings are a team effort, where the chef meets with the brewery’s personnel and tastes the beers, then decides what to cook. The beer dinners are inspired by French cuisine, with the food selected to complement the beer.

  According to Event and Marketing Director Jessica Smith, the Session Room dinners are very elaborate, with four courses and a beer to match each course. “The cost is $50 plus tax, so customers get a lot for their money. Generally, 30 to 50 people attend the dinners,” said Smith. The menus are not released ahead of the event, so the dinner is always a surprise. “That’s part of the fun,” Smith added.

Festival Pairings

  As competition among craft breweries heats up, many breweries and beer festivals are upping their game with pairing events to attract more visitors. Last year, at the California Craft Beer Summit, a “Brewed for Food” event featured specialty brewed beers from 12 breweries paired with specially crafted food from as many restaurants. The objective, said the advertising, was for “teams to partner to create the perfectly balanced bite that elevates the flavor profile of the beer.” The 2019 Portland Beer Week featured four pairing events. “Bean to Bar,” was a chocolate-and-beer festival hosted by Xocolatl de Davíd chocolatiers and Ruse Brewing, spotlighting 10 local chocolates and the beers paired for each one. “Mussels From Brussels,” featured four local brewery’s takes on the classic pairing of mussels and frites.

   At the “Brewer’s Burger Brawl,” four Oregon brewers served a carefully selected beer alongside a slider-sized burger to determine the best pairing. The “Nordic + Northwest” event was the event held by Breakside Brewery and Portland’s future KEX hotel.

Everyday Pairing

  “Culinary Brewhouses” are making waves across the country. In these establishments, brewmasters are applying culinary skills to create beers that showcase flavors and aromatics, and chefs create foods that transcend pub fare like burgers and chicken wings. Chicago’s Band of Bohemia, noted for “infusing culinary flavors into house beers and pairing them with global plates,” became the first brewpub to be awarded a Michelin star within its first year of opening. 

  Moody Tongue Brewing Company, also in Chicago, has classically-trained chef Jared Rouben at the helm as brewmaster. According to Moody Tongue’s website, Rouben “draws on his culinary training to forge this connection between the kitchen and our brewery, building recipes for our beers in the same manner a chef would for a dish.”

  Clearly, beer pairing beer and food is a hot trend throughout the country, and it shows no signs of stopping. According to the 2017 Nielsen Craft Beer Insights, 71% of consumers look for complementary foods when choosing a craft beer at restaurants and bars, and that isn’t about to change. If anything, the number is likely to increase, as more and more beer lovers become exposed to the wonders of the beer and food match-up. Stay tuned…as the market continues to ramp up, the best may be yet to come for the thirsty consumer with a discriminating palate.

Safety and Compliance: More Than Just a Checklist

By: Tracey L. Kelley

In the past 10 years, workplace injuries and illnesses declined in the craft beverage manufacturing industry. This is good news, as it’s a thriving employment sector. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2016—the most recent data collected—breweries, distilleries and other artisanal beverage producers employed approximately 75,000 people. In Canada, according to information from the System of National Accounts in 2018, the craft industry had more than 15,000 workers.

  Some experts say a reduction in workplace incidents is the direct result of an attitudinal shift from reaction to prevention. Ashley Heiman is the MRO department manager for Nelson-Jameson in Marshfield, Wisconsin—a single-source food, dairy and beverage processing plant supplier. Heiman explained the vital importance of this approach. 

  “The Food Safety Modernization Act created a significant culture shift. The essential question that the FSMA pushes us and our customer base to ask is, ‘How can I most effectively and proactively create a safe, quality product?’” she told Beverage Master Magazine. “When you think proactively about your product, it pushes you to think proactively about your facility and the staff that produces that product. From floor drains to dust collection in your rafters, every facet of your facility and those operating that facility can make or break a brewery or distillery.”

  Established in 2011 by the Food and Drug Administration, FSMA compliance extended to beverage producers at a graduated rate. It began in 2016 for companies with over 500 full-time employees, scaling down to “very small businesses”—those with beverage sales of less than $1 million—finalizing compliance in September 2018. Inspections of beverage raw materials started this year. For some producers, this compliance required extensive examination and overhaul of processes and systems.

  One might assume that requirements by OSHA and the FDA already cover worker and product safety issues. In many ways, they do, but this additional layer of compliance mandated by the FSMA is a necessity for consumer products. It’s also another thread of bureaucracy to follow—one of many that can be challenging to untangle. 

  “It’s very difficult for business owners to dedicate time to learning all the nuances of compliance to both OSHA and the FDA. They’re really interested in creating and growing their businesses, so having a consultant who’s knowledgeable in these compliance areas allows the owner to both focus on the business and ensure that someone is keeping them compliant,” said Gary D. Morgan, Vice President and senior consultant of SafeLink Consulting in Cumming, Georgia. He’s also an authorized OSHA outreach trainer.

  “Our business is to know everything we can about OSHA safety requirements and FDA regulations on producing beverages that are safe for the public to consume, so we keep our clients as informed as possible in these areas,” Morgan said. He also pointed out that the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety and its Food Inspection Agency mirror OSHA and the FDA requirements rather closely, so producers sharing a national border are assured of similar compliance between partners.

Create an Environment of Safety

  Doing what’s best for the product starts with the optimum workplace atmosphere and training provided to employees. Ideally, owners and managers should establish these best practices in the early stages of the business.

  “Bringing a consultant onboard at start-up can ensure decisions can be made in the development stage that takes into consideration compliance issues for both OSHA and FDA,” Morgan said. “Trying to retrofit safety considerations into an existing design can be costlier than providing for it upfront. Implementing an FDA-compliant quality system initially can also prevent or handle issues in producing a product that’s fit for consumption.”

Morgan advised that instead of evaluating consultants by price, first outline facility specifications.

  “Then, I would suggest that as part of due diligence, talk to several consulting firms and ask the same questions of each one to ensure an apples¬-to-apples comparison, rather than just looking solely at pricing. A producer should include expenses for these services in the annual budget.”

  Another top-to-bottom safety solution, Heiman said, is color-coding. “We’ve seen a great interest in it. It’s proven to be an excellent proactive approach. Not only can color-coding help prevent cross-contamination in terms of allergens or yeast strains, but it also helps to organize and streamline workflow, designates critical control areas of a facility and assists many of our customers in isolating possible pathogen risks,” she said. “With the wide variety of products we offer, facilities can build a color-coded program to break up their operations into pragmatic zones.”   

  Josh Pringle is the vice president of CO2Meter in Ormond Beach, Florida. His company specializes in the design and manufacturing of gas detection and monitoring devices—mainly CO2—as well as consultancy and training. He advises producers not to rely on state or local inspectors to tell them to improve ventilation or install monitors: do it because it’s what’s best for your employees.

  “Producers should consider the following when preparing to train or educate staff: what’s in the best interest of our employees, what does our insurance provider require us to do, what will OSHA/NIOSH expect as part of a training package, and how should we plan to test and retrain staff,” he told Beverage Master Magazine. “We have a brewing partner who made the following statement: ‘Why would I pay a few hundred dollars for a safety monitor and then not train my staff on what to do if it goes off? Pointless!’”

  Pringle noted that many professional associations offer free training regarding CO2 safety, proper lockout/tagout procedures, and dozens of other critical topics.

  These organizations include, but are not limited to:

•    American Distilling Institute

•    Brewers’ Association

•    International Beverage Dispensing Equipment Association

•    Master Brewers Association of the Americas

•    WorkSafeBC

  OSHA and NIOSH also have online training, workbooks, visual aids and other resources for new employee and refresher training.

  He cautioned against complacency in your facility. “When employees work in and around hazardous situations, materials, ingredients and situations, no duty should be considered mundane or a ‘to do.’ Safety is an every moment, everyday project,” Pringle said. “The statistic always sited from the National Transportation Safety Board is the majority of car accidents occurred within five miles of someone’s home. The data demonstrated that drivers started to let their guard down in more familiar surroundings. Employee safety has no mileage areas. Any training that allows for complacency is flawed.”

  Morgan agreed. He offered these three tips:

1.  Always be vigilant to compliance issues. Oversight is demanding.

2.  Delegate responsibilities to duly-trained and competent individuals.

3.  Training is an ongoing activity, not a one-time event.

More Than a List on a Clipboard

  Workers in the craft beverage industry are prone to the following injuries and illnesses:

•    Overexertion, including medical conditions caused by repetitive motion or lifting heavy items such as barrels, kegs and crates.

•    Slips, trips and falls because of slick floors, ladders, obstacles and carrying heavy loads up and downstairs.

•    Working in fermenters, tanks, vats and other confined spaces, especially when carbon dioxide exposure is a concern.

•    Physical hazards such as pressurized equipment, forklifts, temperature extremes, and moving parts.

  It might require specialized products, protective gear, and consultation to maintain essential worker safety. “Safety concerns are widespread across a facility. Personal protective equipment, noise protection and respiratory protection are some of the most common product areas we deal with for our brewery and distillery customers,” said Heiman of Nelson-Jameson. “Lockout/tagout products are also popular. Additionally, it’s important to be specific with vendors if employees are handling chemicals, lab reagents, machinery, and so on. These details dictate the best products to utilize.”

  Even with a safety plan upon start-up, and as Pringle of CO2Meter expressed previously, crafting operations are integrated with safety in handling not only CO2 but throughout all functions. So the plan becomes more of a living document, refined by training, to help staff anticipate and correct issues before a more significant problem occurs.

  Here are the steps Pringle recommended:

•   Identify the hazard

•   Discuss the hazard

•   Create a plan of action to prevent the hazard

•   Create a secondary plan that accounts for and mitigates the hazard

•   Define methods to disperse the hazard

•   Understand the methodology to test an area to ensure safe conditions

•   Create and institute a policy and procedure to understand an incident

•   Create a safety plan

•   Including safe zones and rally points

•   Practice, practice, practice

“Be mindful. Be aware, Follow procedures, no matter how cumbersome. For example, lockout/tagout has become a mainstay because it’s effective,” Pringle said.

  Regarding C02 specifically, “The most likely points of CO2 incidents for beverage producers are at their canning and bottling lines. ‘Dosing’ areas typically register CO2 concentrations above the OSHA– and NIOSH–permissible time-weighted average standard of 5,000 ppm TWA for employees—placing a typical producer in violation,” Pringle said. “While working around CO2 can often be a necessity for beverage staff members, having proper training sessions and ensuring your staff is informed on the dangers of CO2 is the first step.”

  Morgan of SafeLink Consulting had some final thoughts. “Be proactive in establishing your compliance programs. If you have to be reactive, then something negative has happened that could be very detrimental to the business itself. It could be an employee injury or complaint, or a product that causes consumer complaints or worse, consumer injury or illness,” he said.

  “And there’s always the ever-present specter of an inspection from a regulatory agency with fines, penalties and even forced business suspension or closure. Give yourself peace of mind by being on top of compliance issues, not at the mercy of them.”

A Guide to Some of the Best Canadian Beer Fests

By: Briana Tomkinson

The popularity of craft beer in Canada has fueled the growth of beer festivals across the country. Some, like Craft Beer Week events in Vancouver and Ontario, are primarily dedicated to showcasing local brews, while other festivals, like Montreal’s Mondial de la bière, are opportunities for beer-lovers to explore new tastes from across Canada and around the world.

Mondial de la bière

  At the 26th annual Mondial de la bière, held in May 2019, an estimated 80,000 visitors flowed through the kiosks at Windsor Station in downtown Montreal. Visitors were keen to sample some of the 450 beers, ciders, meads and spirits from at least 90 craft beverage producers—including 35 from Quebec.

  While the included the usual branded brewery kiosks, it also featured the Petit Pub where visitors could try a selection of beer varieties from eight countries: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the U.S., Italy, Norway, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Although admission was free, visitors could buy coupons for two- or four-ounce samples, ranging in price from $2 to $8 CAD.

  Quebec distilleries were a notable presence at the event, offering many creative tastes like les Subversif’s maple gin, produced in a former church in Sorel-Tracy; and Franklin-based Sivo’s rhubarb liqueur. Sivo was the first in Quebec to create a single-malt whisky in 2017 and is now known for its complex herbal liqueurs as well. Quebec’s first locally produced bitter Italian-style apératif, Amermelade, by Montreal’s Les Spiritueux Iberville was also available for sampling, along with the company’s Amernoir, a bitter amaro-style digestif with notes of coffee, cocoa, sarsaparilla, mint and orange.

  The event featured Quebec breweries proudly touting their sour beers. La Souche’s Canadian Brewing Award-winning Limoilou Beach beer stood out, in particular. The brew incorporates locally sourced ingredients unique to the northern Boréal forest, such as tart wild berries, Labrador tea and pine tips.

  The Mondial de la bière was founded in Montreal in 1994, and has become one of America’s most important international beer festivals. In addition to the original Montreal event, there are now three other Mondial de la bière festivals organized around the world, including one in Europe (mondialdelabiereparis.com), and two in Brazil. The events in France and Sao Paulo took place in late May and early June, and the seventh edition of the Rio de Janeiro Mondial de la bière (mondialdelabiererio.com/en/) is September 4-8, 2019.

Just wait, there’s more…

  If you missed out on the Mondial de la bière, don’t fret—there are similar events held across Canada throughout the year. Here are some of the most notable.

  Festibière (festibiere.ca), held in Gatineau in June and February, is another Quebec beer festival. The June festival drew more than 30,000 people over three days and featured over 300 beers from more than 30 Quebec breweries. The winter edition in February is more intimate, drawing closer to 10,000 people.

  In July, the Toronto Festival of Beer (https://beerfestival.ca/) pairs craft beverages with food and music. This year’s headliners include Ashanti and Ja Rule. The event will feature samples of over 400 beers from more than 90 brewers.

  Brewfest (http://brewfest.ca/) takes place in Ottawa in February and Toronto in March. The February event coincides with Ottawa’s annual Winterlude festival, a significant tourist draw at the famously frigid time of year. The Toronto event features over 150 beers from breweries in Quebec and Ontario, as well as gourmet eats from popular local food trucks.

  Alberta Beer Festivals (albertabeerfestivals.com) organizes six events throughout the year in Calgary, Edmonton, Banff and Jasper. Their Calgary International Beerfest, home to the Canadian International Beer Awards, is one of Canada’s largest beer festivals. The beer fest, held annually in May, features over 700 beers from more than 200 breweries. Another of their events, the Jasper Beer & Barley Summit, held in February, is a two-day mountain retreat at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, featuring food and beer pairings and seminars from top brewers, distillers and other industry leaders.

  In British Columbia, Vancouver Craft Beer Week (vancouvercraftbeerweek.com) is the event to watch. Held in late May and early June, it’s a 10-day party celebrating the city’s thriving craft beer scene, including a two-day festival at the PNE Fairgrounds in June, as well as events at breweries, restaurants and bars throughout the city. This year’s events included beer bike tours, tap takeovers, special beer pairing menus at local restaurants, and a three-hour sunset cruise featuring craft beer, snacks and a DJ.

  Another notable summer festival in B.C. is Farmhouse Fest (farmhousefest.com), held in July at the University of British Columbia’s 24-hectare model farm. Farmhouse Fest is an ode to farmhouse-style beers and ciders—the funky, fruity, peppery, tart, dry and sour. Participating breweries include local breweries as well as specialty producers from throughout Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Chile and Australia.

  August in the Maritimes brings the Seaport Cider & Beer Festival (seaportbeerfest.com) to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The two-day event features over 300 beverages from producers in 20 countries. This year they’ve added a new feature: the Maine Beer Box, a pop-up taproom in a shipping container featuring 78 craft beer taps from breweries in Maine.

  Another major East Coast beer fest is New Brunswick’s Fredericton Craft Beer Festival (http://frederictoncraftbeerfestival.com/) in March, which features over 200 varieties of beer, cider and mead.

  In remote Whitehorse, the Yukon Beer Festival (yukonbeerfestival.com) in October brings a taste of craft beer and ciders from around North America to delight beer fans in the Great White North. Last year’s event featured over 100 different brews.

  Some larger craft producers, like Beau’s Brewing in tiny Vankleek Hill, Ontario, have created their own marquee events. Beau’s Oktoberfest (beausoktoberfest.ca) has become a significant fall music and beer celebration, featuring not only Beau’s brews but also a mini-beer festival with over 50 rare or exclusive beers from Canadian craft breweries. The New Pornographers and Shad headline the September festival, along with Jenn Grant, Neon Dreams, Birds of Bellwoods, Caravane, John Jacob Magistery, and What If Elephants. The 2018 event drew over 17,000 people, and since its launch 10 years ago, has raised approximately $711,000 for area charities. 

  The beauty of beer festivals is the opportunity for brands to make a personal connection with beer fans, tell their story, and above all, to entice more people to taste the unique product they have to offer.

Enhancing your Beer Marketing Strategy with Partnerships

By: Suzanne Henricksen

It can be hard to capture consumer attention in today’s digital age within the increasingly crowded and competitive craft beer industry. We live in a world of short attention spans, information overload, and the constant ding of gadgets begging us to look at something else. While there are many effective marketing strategies to help your brewery stand out in the digital landscape, sometimes it’s even more effective to bring a great marketing idea to life right at the shelf…particularly when it means partnering with another brand that your potential consumers already know and love. In these situations, one plus one can often add up to much more than two, benefiting both brands and helping your brewery grow in awareness and sales.

To do this, more and more breweries are starting to ink partnerships with companies to gain competitive advantage. Often, these collaborations involve parties that have nothing to do with beer, but everything to do with the brand’s values, character, and target consumers. These tend to be quite successful, partly due to the unique combinations of ideas. By success, we mean several factors: it could mean that both parties have profited from the partnership in terms of sales, or that the partnership has created buzz on social media or through publications, increasing awareness and consideration of the brands involved. Indicators such as likes, shares, comments, search queries, feature articles, increased production, and additional projects are used to gauge the reception and success of these beer partnerships. With that in mind, let’s look at a few examples of innovative campaigns that have helped craft beer brands stand out.

Muskoka Salty Caramel Truffle

Beer and ice cream…a match made in heaven. No? Well, this partnership between Ontario craft brewer Muskoka and ice cream maker Kawartha Dairy shows that it’s not as strange as it may seem.

This new brew was a bock-style beer inspired by Kawartha’s popular Salty Caramel Truffle ice cream. The beer had a milk chocolate flavor thanks to roasted malt, and was also infused with salted caramel for a unique taste. A can of this brew was only available for a limited time, which had Canadian craft beer fans scrambling to buy. The brand’s first Facebook post last February about the new product garnered over 500 likes, 118 shares, over 200 comments, and the attention of several publications in Canada.

Star Trek “Captain’s Holiday” Ale

Any product that is attached to a globally popular franchise has good odds of generating high sales. During the 2017 holiday season, Shmaltz Brewing Company launched its Star Trek themed ale, called Captain’s Holiday. The beer is tropical with hints of citrus. While the release was aimed to celebrate the franchise’s 30th anniversary, as reported in Food and Wine, it actually was not the brewery’s first Star Trek deal. Even before this release, they had already launched another Star Trek inspired beer called Symbiosis.

Both beer labels included images of the Starship Enterprise, which is one of Star Trek’s most beloved and recognizable icons. Even casual fans can identify the ship and franchise. This is why it’s often added to all sorts of Star Trek related media, for immediate recognition. This rule certainly applies to brands operating in niche markets, since they’ll be using the Star Trek name as a form of leverage. Suffice it to say, anything Star Trek touches seems to turn to gold. As of this writing, Shmaltz has released over six Star Trek-themed craft beers. Amidst their move back to a contract brewing model, they are most certainly holding onto this product line, which is a sure indication the partnership is lucrative for their brand.

Urban Underdog American Lager

Drinking for a cause? Great idea. Purina, the widely popular pet care brand is lending its name to one of Urban Chestnut’s brews called the Urban Underdog American Lager. Purina donated $3 to the Petfinder Foundation for every eight pack of the brew sold in St. Louis. To help market this partnership, Urban Underdog came up with a campaign called “Consider a Shelter Pet” incorporated into the brand’s packaging. The St. Louis Post Dispatch revealed that Purina planned to donate up to $50,000 so it could offer $50 subsidies toward pet adoption fees.

The campaign rolled out in August 2017 with Urban Underdog expanding distribution in St. Louis in 2018. With its continued distribution, it’s safe to say that the partnership is doing well for both sides. If you are looking for another reason to drink beer, you can consider finding a good home for pets a pretty awesome choice.

Are Partnerships Right For Your Brewery?

Depending on where you are in your brewery journey, marketing partnerships like the ones we’ve shared today can have a variety of benefits. For newer brands, they can put you on the map as a favorite new craft brewery. In these situations, make sure that you have a solid reputation for your own beers first and don’t jump into a marketing partnership too quickly.

For established breweries, partnerships can spread awareness to different audiences to bring in new fans. To find the right partnerships here, talk to your existing customers about what other activities and products they love. A rich pool of potential fans may be found enjoying a broad range of interest from hiking to a genre of movies or music to a certain style of food.

When thinking about collaborations with other brands, remember it is not only creativity and uniqueness that will get people’s attention; the partnership has to be relevant, in sync with recent trends, on brand, and have intrinsic value to your target consumer. As with all good marketing strategies, thinking about the 5Ws is critical…who, what, when, where & why. Then focus on how to actually execute the idea. Make sure you don’t overlook the power of partnering with smaller, local brands. We can’t all land deals with brands as big as Star Trek or Purina but, honestly, depending on your consumer base and brand, partnering with someone that big might not be the right move. So, make sure to focus on the potential value of the partnership for your customers and don’t get distracted by brand star power.

Pursuing these opportunities can be an effective and fun way to spread razor-thin craft beer marketing budgets to reach more people when done right. It’s also a great way to fund the innovative ideas that your brewer wants to explore and raise awareness for causes that are near and dear to the heart of your business. While this is only one of many marketing tactics to help grow brand awareness and sales, it’s an exciting one in today’s digital age since it comes to life tangibly at the point of purchase. And isn’t that what marketing is all about? Let’s raise a glass to working together so consumers find, buy, and enjoy more of your brews.

Contact Suzanne at The Crafty Caskor 510-316-4251

SAKÉ: THE NEW FRONTIER IN CRAFT BEVERAGES

By: Nan McCreary

Saké has been around for thousands of years, but few Americans are familiar with the drink that is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. That is changing, and it’s changing quickly. With U.S. consumers eager to experience alternative beverages and explore new flavors, saké is on the cusp of a revolution here at home. As imports of saké rise dramatically, local artisans and entrepreneurs are seeing an opportunity for a new niche in the craft beverage market: local saké production.

Currently, there are about 20 saké breweries (Kura) in the U.S., including several that originated as American outposts of Japanese companies. These breweries span from California to Maine, from Texas to Minnesota. Wherever they are located, the owners and master brewers (toji) have one thing in common: a passion for the product. Dan Ford, founder and owner of Blue Current Brewery in Kittery, Maine, is one such devotee. After living and working in Japan for years, he decided to “spread the word” by bringing hand-crafted saké to New England.

“I love saké,” Ford said. “I love making it, and I love to see people smile when they taste it. That’s what drives me.”

So what exactly is this mystical brew that is rapidly growing in popularity in the U.S. and around the world? Saké is an alcoholic beverage fermented from rice. It has often been called ‘rice wine’ but, in fact, it is not a wine. Nor is it a beer, nor a distilled product. Rather, it fits into its own unique category.

“Saké has a little bit of identity crisis because a lot of people consider it a wine, but it’s more like a beer, fermented from grain using a saké yeast,” said Tim Klatt, co-founder of Texas Saké Company in Austin, the only saké producer in Texas. “In the past, people’s knowledge was pretty much limited to ‘hot saké,’ which is basically grain alcohol with a little rice flavoring that’s super cheap and heated up so you can’t really taste anything.  Our approach is to make a much more crafted, artisan product.”

Jack Lien, sales and education ambassador at SakéOne in Forest Grove, Oregon, said their brewery, too, is on a mission to introduce people in the U.S. to the joys of quality saké. “Saké is unique,” he told Beverage Master Magazine. “It’s brewed like a beer and drinks like a wine. It offers a nice alternative for people who are conscious of what they’re drinking. It’s sulfite free and naturally gluten-free. Some are vegan. It’s a unique beverage that intrigues a lot of people.”

Basic Ingredients

Saké comes in a variety of styles, but the basic ingredients are always the same: rice, water, koji (a fungus that converts the starch in rice to sugar) and yeast. Like good beer and good wine, good saké starts with quality ingredients, primarily premium rice. Generally, U.S. brewers source their rice from California’s Sacramento Valley, which grows some of the finest rice in the world. Texas Saké Company uses Calrose rice, the offspring of high-end rice used ages ago in Japan. SakéOne uses mostly Calrose rice and an American grown Yamada-Nishiki rice, known in Japan for its use in quality Saké. Blue Current uses Koshi Hikari, a short grain variety of rice named after the historic Koshi Province in Japan.

Water quality is also important, as completed saké is 80 percent water. “Water is critical because it can affect the final product,” SakéOne’s Lien told Beverage Master Magazine. “Soft water produces a soft and mellow saké, while hard water, which contains certain minerals, produces a more full-bodied saké.” Most American brewers prefer to use soft water.

Saké Production

Production of saké is not for the faint of heart: it is a complex process that takes time, patience and skill that can only be acquired by training and experience. This process starts when the rice first arrives at the brewery, where it is polished to remove the outer husk and prepare it for brewing good saké.

The polishing rates vary, depending on how much of the outside husk of each grain of rice is removed to reach the starchy and more desirable core. In general, the more the rice is polished, the more aromatically expressive the Saké becomes, and the higher the grade. The majority of saké made in the U.S. are junmai ginjo, a high-end saké milled to 60 percent of its original size, although some brewers may polish further.

After the rice is polished, residue from the milling process is washed from the grain, and the rice is saturated with water, depending on the type of rice and the desired characteristics of the saké. Next, the rice is steamed, which changes the molecular structure of the starch in the grain, allowing easier breakdown of that starch.

The next step — making the koji — is the heart of saké-brewing. “The Japanese say there are three pillars of brewing saké,” Blue Current’s Ford told Beverage Master Magazine. “The first pillar is koji, the second pillar is koji, and the third pillar is koji. All things flow from making koji. If you can make really good koji, you can make really good saké.”

In this process, the freshly steamed rice is spread out on long tables in a warm, heated environment known as a koji room. The rice is covered with koji-kin, the “miracle” mold that converts the starch in the rice to a form of glucose. Over the next 36 to 45 hours, the toji constantly tends the koji to ensure that it’s developing properly. “The koji is food for the yeast, and it’s critical to fermentation,” SakéOne’s Lien said. “Our toji, Takumi Kuwabara, has 25 years of brewing experience—13 years in Japan and 12 here—and he makes our koji completely by hand. He’s continually tinkering and tweaking the koji to make sure he gets the recipe just right.”

After the koji is made, a small amount is mixed with steamed rice, yeast and water in a tank to produce shubo or moto, or a fermentation starter. Typically, it takes two weeks to create a small batch of starter with a high concentration of robust yeast cells. Next, all the prep work comes together. Water, steamed rice, saké rice and the fermentation starter are added in three successive stages over four days to create the main mash, which will ferment over the next 18 to 32 days. During this time, the toji may adjust the length of fermentation, temperatures, and other factors in creating a specific saké profile.

The actual fermentation process is what separates saké from beer or wine. In wine, no sugar conversion is necessary, since sucrose is naturally-occurring in grapes. With beer, the creation of sugar and alcohol are separate processes: starches in the grain are converted to sugar in the form of wort, then yeast is added to create alcohol. In saké, conversion of starch into glucose and glucose into alcohol occur simultaneously in a process called multiple parallel fermentation. One of the characteristics of alcohol made in this method is high alcohol content. Saké is usually about 15 percent alcohol by volume and may be as high as 21 percent.

Once fermentation is complete, the saké is pressed to separate the newly created alcohol from the rice solids left in the mash. The saké is then filtered to remove fine particulates and pasteurized to kill off any remaining bacteria and yeast. Finally, the product is aged—usually for three to six months—and then bottled. The time to brew a batch of saké, from start to finish, is around seven weeks.

American Spin

While U.S. craft saké brewers typically follow Japanese methods and traditions for brewing saké, they are putting an “American spin” on the product by using processes and ingredients more suited to the local palate. The Texas saké Company, for example, filters their product less than the Japanese. “This gives a more robust saké with lots of fruity flavors,” co-owner Tim Klatt said. “We’re home brewers from the past, so we’re always trying something different. One of our big pushes is oaked sakés, where we toast oak chips in-house and add them to the brew. This delivers an amazing vanilla and oak and tannin experience, which will even stand up to barbeque.” The Texas Saké Company also produces a line of sparkling sakés with seven percent ABV and is preparing to produce a typical Japanese product that “will bridge the gap” between American and U.S. styles of sakés.

SakéOne is on the cutting edge as well, with its Moonstone brands, flavor-infused sakés. These include Cucumber Mint, Asian Pear and Coconut Lemongrass. All are infused right before bottling. “We are making these to appeal to our wild, pioneering side,” Lien said. “This is what we do to have fun.”

As U.S. Saké brewers look to the future, they see more breweries popping up, and more consumers taking notice. All agree that we can expect to see new products, more experimenting with saké-brewing techniques and broader distribution of American-made saké, both in the U.S. and abroad.

“Craft saké is definitely a niche market,” according to Ford, the Harvard-trained entrepreneur who founded Blue Current Brewery. “People are trying new flavors and looking for the next new thing. As a brewer and frequent traveler to Japan, I think it’s wonderful to open the kimono and show people this wonderful new beverage which is probably the coolest thing people have probably never had. The future is looking good: we’re seeing blue skies ahead.”

Crafting Marijuana Policies? Managing Employees in the Wake of Legalized Marijuana

By: Amy Lessa and Nicole Stenoish, Attorneys At Law, Fisher Phillips

Marijuana legalization is on the rise and quickly expanding to all corners of the United States. Nearly 2/3 of the states have legalized marijuana for either recreational or medicinal use.  Currently, 11 states and the District of Columbia allow recreational marijuana, and an additional 22 states allow medical marijuana. These numbers are expected to grow over the next few years as the societal and political perspectives on cannabis continue to shift in favor of legalization.

Despite this shift, marijuana still remains an illegal Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act – in direct contrast with legalized marijuana at the state level.  Although federal law is superior to state law, businesses must comply with both – even if federal and state laws conflict with one another. The chronic dispute between state and federal marijuana laws has left many employers confused about how to handle marijuana use in the workplace.  We’re here to clear the smoke.

Legalized Marijuana – What Can-a-Business Do?

Marijuana laws are constantly evolving and continue to be challenged in courts across the country. This makes it difficult to keep up with the requirements and limitations of legalized marijuana under both state and federal law.

Many employers are now questioning whether their workplace marijuana policies and practices should be revised.  Before deciding what policy is best for your company, it is important to understand the law in your state.  A company’s policies should also reflect the specific needs and challenges of the business and workforce.  For example, many craft brewery owners report they can no longer test for cannabis because most of their applicants cannot pass the drug test at the pre-employment stage. That could leave a brewery without a workforce.  As a result, Company’s should decide whether it makes sense to continue testing for cannabis in their pre-employment drug screens.  Other issues relevant to this determination are whether your employees operate heavy machinery or work in safety sensitive positions, and are you having difficulty recruiting qualified candidates for your company?

There are several key issues the keep in mind when determining the best marijuana policies and practices for your workforce:

  1. Maintain a Drug-Free Workplace

Employers are entitled to maintain specific policies related to marijuana use in the workplace, including drug-free workplace and zero-tolerance policies.  Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, employers can strictly prohibit marijuana at work.  Employees can be disciplined, and even terminated, for coming to work under the influence, possessing marijuana on company premises, or using marijuana while at work – even in states where marijuana is legal.  In most states, companies also have the right to test employees for drug use, and can discipline or terminate employees for violation of the drug-free workplace policy. Before implementing a zero-tolerance policy, make sure your state does not specifically protect medical marijuana users or prevent employers from disciplining workers for legal off-duty conduct. Otherwise, drug-free workplace policies are essential to help protect your business and manage employees in the wake of legalized marijuana.

  1. Review Drug Testing Policies

Employers can typically require employee drug testing throughout employment. The different types of testing including pre-employment drug testing, random drug testing, reasonable suspicion drug testing, and post-accident drug testing depending on state laws.  Employers with mandatory drug testing policies need to ensure they follow specific state laws restricting disciplinary action based on positive test results.  Additionally, employers are prohibited from administering drug tests as a form of discipline or for retaliatory purposes. There are several other issues to consider when reviewing your company’s drug testing policies.

First, the science used to test for marijuana has been slow to catch up with increased legalization. While there are testing methodologies currently in development, there is no test to determine whether an individual is presently under the influence of marijuana. Marijuana can remain in one’s system for weeks, and an employee could test positive for marijuana even if it was consumed outside of work and had no impact on the employee’s job performance. This creates potential issues for employers when drug testing employees who have medical marijuana prescriptions, or in states where recreational marijuana is allowed.

Also, many states have laws that provide protections for engaging in legal off-duty conduct.  These laws prohibit employers from considering an employee’s lawful conduct outside of work for purposes of making employment decisions.  For example, in states where recreational marijuana is legal, the consumption of marijuana outside of work hours could be considered lawful off-duty conduct, and an employer could be prohibited from using an employee’s positive drug test for purposes of making an adverse employment decision. Although this issue remains largely untested by the courts, and employers are currently allowed to make certain employment decisions based on drug test results, we anticipate that employee drug test results will be challenged by lawful off-duty conduct laws in the years to come.

Furthermore, employers in a limited number of states may need to accommodate medical marijuana usage by employees. In those circumstances, employers are prohibited from making employment decisions based on an employee’s positive test result, depending on the nature of the employee’s particular position and job duties.

Pre-employment Drug Testing

Companies are generally allowed to require drug testing as a condition of employment, and can deny employment based on positive test results.  However, some states limit pre-employment drug testing for medical marijuana users, and other states have anti-discrimination laws for pre-employment drug test results.

Interestingly, an increasing number of companies, including those in the craft beverage industries, are eliminating pre-employment drug testing because of difficulties it can pose in finding employees who can pass the test.  As a result, some employers are softening their drug testing policies or removing marijuana from the list of drugs tested for. However, softening the stance on pre-employment marijuana drug testing may not be a viable option for companies with employees working in safety-sensitive positions, or companies with insurance policies or government contracts that specifically require employee drug testing.

Drug Testing During Employment

Employers may also consider random drug testing, reasonable suspicion drug testing, and post-accident drug testing of employees. Random drug testing is only allowed in some states and often limited to employees in specific, narrowly defined classifications – such as employees working in safety sensitive positions.  Almost all states allow employers to drug test employees if there is reasonable suspicion that an employee is impaired on the job.  Reasonable suspicion must be more than a hunch, and employers should be able to articulate the employee’s specific conduct or behaviors that led the employer to suspect impairment on the job.  Employers can also conduct post-accident drug testing following a workplace injury or accident, but only for employees whose impairment or drug use could have contributed to the incident.

Overall, companies should review state-specific laws and consider the specific needs and challenges of their workforce when reviewing or revising drug testing policies and practices.  And you should always put drug testing policies in writing, distribute to your employees, and enforce the policies uniformly.

  1. Accommodation of Medical Marijuana Varies by State

Generally, employers do not need to accommodate medical marijuana in the workplace. However, this could soon change. Courts in several states have recently indicated that accommodating an employee’s medical marijuana use may be appropriate in certain situations.  Employers already must engage their employees in the interactive process to explore reasonable accommodations for known disabilities of an employee. In some circumstances, this could mean accommodating medical marijuana use if it is determined to be a reasonable accommodation that does not create an undue hardship on the Company. Before doing so, however, employers should consult with qualified legal counsel.

Employers also need to be careful when disciplining medical marijuana users. Several states have specific laws protecting medical cannabis patients from employment discrimination. Medical marijuana patients in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, for example, have already won lawsuits against companies that rescinded job offers or fired workers because of positive tests for cannabis. Medical marijuana laws are continuing to evolve, and protections for medical marijuana users are likely to increase.

Conclusion – Best Practices

An increasing number of states have legalized medical or recreational marijuana, yet the federal government continues to classify marijuana as an illegal drug. This conflict between state and federal law is not likely to be resolved anytime soon. In the meantime, employers should follow several best practices to manage employees where marijuana has been legalized.

Companies should carefully review these issues and create policies that balance legal compliance with the specific needs of the business. Until the conflict between state and federal law is resolved, this includes:

  • Stay up to date with evolving marijuana laws.
  • Determine specific requirements for drug testing and medical marijuana in each state in which your company has employees.
  • Develop state-compliant workplace drug policies that are appropriate for your business.
  • Confirm your drug testing policies in writing, distribute to employees, and apply the policies uniformly.
  • Consider eliminating strict drug testing practices in favor of reasonable suspicion drug testing.
  • Determine if you will test applicants for marijuana use or not.
  • Contact legal counsel if any specific concerns or incidents arise within your workforce.

If your company follows these simple guidelines for managing employees in the wake of legalized marijuana, you will be in a good position to adapt while protecting your business as marijuana legalization continues to evolve in the coming years.

For questions on specific state laws, consult with an attorney.

  Amy Lessa and Nicole Stenoish are attorneys in the San Diego office of Fisher Phillips.  Amy and Nicole counsel and defend employers, including breweries in employment law matters. They can be reached at alessa@fisherphillips.com and nstenoish@fisherphillips.com

Nelson-Jameson and 3M™: Driving the Fight Against Food Allergens

By: Nelson-Jameson

With industry demand calling for new innovations in allergen testing, Nelson-Jameson is proud to offer 3M Allergen Protein Rapid Test Kits.

These kits are a qualitative immunochromatographic assay for rapid in-plant monitoring of specific food allergens, and are designed for accurate detection of processed and unprocessed allergen proteins. With results available in 10 to 12 minutes, these fast, easy tests can be used for clean-in-place (CIP) final rinse water, environmental swab samples, raw ingredients and finished food products. We currently have the following test kits available: Almond, Bovine Total Milk, Cashew, Coconut, Egg White, Fish, Gluten, Hazelnut, Peanut, Pecan, Pistachio, Soy, and Walnut. All test kits include 25 tests per kit.

Nelson-Jameson also offers 3M’s line of Allergen Protein ELISA Test Kits for both processed and unprocessed target allergen proteins. For additional information visit nelsonjameson.com or call us at: 800-826-8302.

Nelson-Jameson has been an integrated supplier for the dairy and food industry since 1947. Product lines include safety & personnel, production & material handling, sanitation & janitorial, processing & flow control, laboratory & QA/QC, and bulk packaging & ingredients. The company is headquartered in Marshfield, Wisconsin, with other locations in Turlock, California; Twin Falls, Idaho; York, Pennsylvania; Amarillo, Texas; and a sales branch in Chicago, Illinois.