McMenamins Back in the Guild

A minor item of substantial note: the Oregon Brewers Guild announced that the McMenamins have finally renewed their membership--the first time since 1995. This may seem like nothing to most people, but it's a pretty big symbolic move and has an interesting twist on the beer tax debate (more on that later in the week).

The symbolic move is the acknowledgement by the McBrothers that they're part of an important local industry. Previously, they've maintained that they're centrally a chain of restaurants, not breweries. That has always been absurd on its face, all the more so because the McMenamins got their start as tavern owners and were pioneers of the industry. No one has to join the Oregon Brewers Guild, of course, but it's a credibility issue for both the Guild and the McMenamins. So good.

Now, the interesting twist. The distinction between brewer (brewpub-owner) and restauranteur is mostly a semantic one. From the customers' side, it's academic whether the beer was brewed on-site. But from a political point of view, it's the difference between being a beer producer (brewer) and retailer (restauranteur). The current debate about beer taxes has pitted these two constituencies against each other: under most systems, brewers pay the tax, which restaurant owners, as retailers, prefer. But as brewers, you'd like to see the tax be borne by distributors and retailers, or at least shared.

It's somewhat academic; because the McBrothers don't brew anywhere near enough to meet the threshold for the new tax. But, as members of the Oregon Restaurant Association and not the Brewers Guild, the McMenamins put their de facto weight against brewers. This is a symbolic--and welcome--reversal.

Yeah, I know no one cares, but there you have it.