Reflections at the Ten-year Mark
Charles Vallhonrat, Executive Director
The last eighteen months have brought about many changes to our industry and our world, and I think one of the key things we’ve all learned is that the speed of change we have seen and will see in our industry will only increase going forward. Looking to the future, the Guild is preparing itself to adapt to and harness this increased velocity in an effort to make Texas an even better place for craft beer. To that end, I have been looking back over the last decade to appreciate what has already changed in preparation for an even more dynamic future.
I have been lucky enough to work for the Guild since 2012 and during my time as executive director I have witnessed tremendous things within the industry. We’ve seen amazing growth in the number of breweries and the types of business models they adopt. When I started, there were forty member breweries in the Guild and they were tracked in a simple Word document. Most were manufacturing breweries with a sprinkling of brewpubs around, and the taproom concept was something you talked about in other states, but not Texas. From an advocacy perspective, over the last 9 plus years, we saw a few legislative and regulatory setbacks, but I truly believe that few states have seen the scale of improvement to their alcoholic beverage codes for breweries that Texas has seen. Allowing manufacturing breweries to sell beer in their taprooms then 6 years later be able to sell beer to go, doubling the production cap for brewpubs and allowing them to sell beer into distribution so the brewpub itself was no longer the only place you could buy that beer, and eliminating the beer / ale split and reducing the excise tax rate in the process are just some of the highlights of the improvements the industry has seen since the 2013 legislative session. All these changes were driven by the Guild, which means they were driven by you as part of the collective voice for our industry.
Beyond legislation and growth, the resources and benefits the Guild provides to members have also grown. When I started, our one formal member meeting was the annual meeting and at my first one, we had fewer than 90 people in Lakewood Brewing company’s production space sitting on kegs or whatever else they could find that wouldn’t break so they could listen to about 4 hours of information delivered by the Guild’s board of directors. Why the lack of seats? We simply didn’t think ahead about ordering any. Fast forward 9 years and the Guild adroitly runs multiple annual conferences with hundreds of attendees, full audio-visual presentations, trade show space for allied trade members, meals, and a check in process that doesn’t take nearly an hour (really, sorry to the folks that attended that meeting in 2013 – you were good sports!).
Of course, conferences aren’t the only things that have improved. The Texas Craft Brewers Festival has grown from 30 breweries to just shy of 90 this last year. Shipping competition beer to GABF and World Beer Cup is a great money saver and convenience for our members. Our new website and membership management system makes it easier for breweries to communicate with each other and for the Guild to provide industry resources from webinars to promotional materials, and even a job board.
Now, it is time for the next chapter for the Guild. During the next six months, the Guild’s board and staff will embark on a strategic planning journey to give the Guild new and relevant direction for the next 5 years. We will also be restructuring Guild staff responsibilities and bringing on new team members.
For me, the last 24 months (yes, even pre-pandemic) have been a time of great reflection. When I joined the Guild in 2012, it was after a 23-year career in high tech, working for a multi-billion-dollar company. The thrill of being the single person taking over the three-year-old Guild’s daily operation was exciting and scary, and incredibly rewarding. I thought to myself at the time that I’d put in two years with the Guild to try and help the board build the membership and the industry, and I joked that wouldn’t it be funny if I stuck around for 10 years. Well, guess what, we are nearly there, and I have done more than I could have ever imagined with the Guild. One of my proudest accomplishments has been establishing the team that runs the day-to-day operation of the Guild with Caroline Wallace and Meg Ellis. They are two of the most talented, intelligent, driven, and respectful people I have ever worked with and to be fair, I will rephrase that to definitively say they are the most talented, intelligent, driven, and respectful people I have worked with, period. They are the future of the Guild.
Having done what I set out to do, at the end of April next year, I will retire as executive director and hand the reigns to Caroline Wallace. Caroline, along with Meg, and the board of directors will set new direction for the staff of the Guild and add to the current incredibly talented team.
Announcing my retirement six months early might seem a little funny, but I do it in order to bring full transparency for what promises to be an exciting rebirth of the direction of the Guild leading into 2023. Going into board of director elections for 2022, my goal is for all candidates to understand the challenge they take on by being part of a new chapter for the Guild. Additionally, as we bring on new staff, they will be fully aware of the opportunities and ambiguities they face for the coming year.
Many of you will ask what I am doing next, and honestly, I don’t know – and believe it or not, I find that really exciting. Starting chapter three in my work career without a plan seems fun.
Of course, I was never alone in the Guild. There have always been the amazingly generous members of the board over the last nine plus years, our lobbying team, then the staff of the Guild as we started to grow, and of course our members.
To the hundreds of you out there, I say thank you. What a ride!
The Voice of the Board feature presents ideas, thoughts, rants, editorials, etc. from members of the Guild’s Board of Directors. Material presented here comes unedited from our board members and represents their feelings on the industry, the Guild, and craft beer in general. The opinions provided here are those of the board member who provided them and not necessarily those of the Guild (though they are probably pretty close).