Within just a few feet from me as I write this, one can find the Christmas wish lists of my three sons. Those lists are an interesting insight into their personalities; the youngest boy’s list mentions bungee jumping while the oldest boy’s list consists entirely of computer parts and snowcone syrup. It is the season in the HoochLaw household where previously unspoken wishes and wants are written down and shared with impunity. And with that as a backdrop, I too have written down a few items – the wishes and wants (personally and professionally) of a HoochLawyer for the 2016 Christmas season.
Peace on Earth (or at least within the industry). One of the delightful things about working in this industry is the spirit of collegiality among the participants. But the number of those participants continues to increase – and while I love welcoming those new to the spirits business I worry that the ever-growing cast of characters may outpace the rate of responsible consumption. Put another way, I worry that with every additional proof gallon being produced the competition among producers for consumers’ attention (and dollars) is increasing. Competition is healthy, but it can also promote unpleasant behavior, sharp dealing and enmity. We already have healthy competition. It would be disappointing to see friendly (but fierce) competition turn ugly. In this holiday season, the wish for peace among all warring countries seems difficult to even articulate, let alone obtain – so I’m wishing instead for peace and continued collegiality among spirits brands at home and abroad.
New Friends and Clients. On a personal front, a 2016 Christmas wish is to continue to meet new friends and develop new client relationships (and there is considerable overlap among those groups) in the coming year. Among my colleagues, it is no secret (though it is perhaps something of a point of jealousy and friendly teasing) that my HoochLaw practice is an awful lot of fun – bringing with it interesting people, fantastic field trips and an office bar exceeds many commercial establishments. I’m looking forward to the continued expansion of this journey.
Reasonable Changes in Laws and Regulations. Put kindly, many of our laws and regulations governing the spirits industry are simply outdated. Others are relatively recent but may not fairly reflect the state or needs of the industry. And still others are simply bad policy. One of my 2016 Christmas wishes is that we make some progress addressing these challenges in the coming year. At the federal level, that progress could come from passing tax changes that reduce excise tax burdens on the smallest producers – giving them critical breathing room as they try to grow their businesses. At a state level, there is much progress to be made as well. Here in Washington, for example, distilleries’ tasting rooms operate at a distinct disadvantage to bars – both in terms of the amount and type of items they can pour for consumers. This has prompted some clever participants to build restaurants and bars adjoining their facilities. But with some reasonable and commonsense changes to laws and regulations such machinations might not be necessary.
Sufficient Capital. One of the biggest challenges facing all but the largest producers is access to sufficient capital on reasonable terms. This capital squeeze hits newly-minted DSPs before they even fire up their stills. And it hits established producers as they try to grow their businesses, expand production and enter into new markets. As one of my wishes for the 2016 Christmas season, I’d like to see exponential growth in the availability of capital to these producers. I’m hoping that Indiegogo’s recent launch of equity crowdfunding on their site will help fulfill my wish. But candidly I don’t see Indiegogo alone providing the level of liquidity that is needed. Rather, it will take continued interest by the public in funding these businesses – and a continued willingness of DSPs to accept that investment even if it means dilution of the founders’ interest – to fill this need.
Really Good Hooch. As the last item on the HoochLaw Christmas wish list, I’ll throw in another personal item – continued opportunities to sample really excellent spirits. In the past year I was fortunate to try some amazing stuff, from small batch Amaretto made by two guys in British Columbia to extra añejo Cuban rums, to American single-malt whiskies that rival anything made with a Scottish brogue. Incredible stuff; I can’t wait to see what new (and new to me) spirits I have a chance to try in the months ahead. [Note: I actually received a bottle of really good hooch for Christmas – a bottle of Westland Single Cask Reserve was left in my chair with a note from Santa that it would be a nice addition to my office collection. Thank you, Santa, whoever and wherever you are – and I promise it will be a nice addition to the office collection as soon as I finish sampling it by the fireplace this weekend.]