Tin Roof Brewery's "Bayou Bengal" lager.
A contentious proposal in the Louisiana House of Representatives by a Shreveport lawmaker would prohibit a state institution of higher learning from allowing its name or symbol to be affixed to an alcoholic beverage.
This has ramification for both the microbreweries and the schools. The controversy even caught the attention of Gov. John Bel Edwards, who weighed into the brew-ha-ha Thursday.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Louisiana State University, which have their own official beer associated with their brands, are in the crosshairs of the bill by Democratic Rep. Cedrick Glover, who believes there is no justification for a university officially branding itself with alcohol.
Glover believes the current licensing agreements with breweries is a sudsy slope to hard liquor branding, but his concerns go beyond the alcohol.
“If you do this, why not the official lottery ticket game of the various universities across the state?” he said facetiously. “Let’s have the Mike the Tiger pick-three card.”
Edwards doesn’t quite see it that way. He implied to the Manship School News Service Thursday that, while he has not yet spoken to fellow Democrat Glover or the schools, the licensing of beer is simply part of a bigger tendency in the state. “It is very clear. You go to the grocery store around football season and you are going to find purple and gold cans of beer in Louisiana," Edwards said. "So we have people trying to take advantage of a connection to the universities, anyway.”
The Bayou Bengal lager is one of five core beers by Tin Roof Brewery of Baton Rouge, founded by LSU alumni in 2010. The university receives 15 percent of the earnings associated with the beer. Glover said the ongoing budget cuts experienced by state universities is not a valid excuse to seek out replacement revenues from beer.
Glover called it unfortunate that the state has to “look for revenue in any and all places.” He said his bill is not targeting microbreweries such as Tin Roof, which he said are popping up in his district and are “wonderful.”
LSU President F. King Alexander was quoted by The Advocate
of Baton Rouge that House Bill 610 was “nonsense” and that Glover “likes to throw stones.”
Glover was quick to counter, calling Alexander’s response to the bill “petty.”
Alexander argued there are already major brands packaging products in the school’s iconic purple and gold colors, and they should deserve a cut of those profits.
“If King Alexander deserves a cut, then all the young men and women who have helped expose and elevate the brands across this state deserve a break as well,” Glover said. “But any one of those young people attempt to capitalize … on the prestige they bring to these institutions, then the NCAA and the university itself and the system as a whole will come down on them in ungodly ways.”
One of the brewery’s co-founders, William McGehee, said the LSU-licensed beer was in the works for several years prior to its launch last fall. Former Chancellor Mike Martin approached Tin Roof in 2010 about putting a brew pub on campus, but McGehee thought it would be better to start with an LSU licensed beer.
McGehee said Tin Roof was able to bring an LSU beer to fruition with Alexander, who thought it was “a great idea” and gave the green light.
“I understand [Glover’s] opinion, but we’re a craft brewery,” McGehee said. “We don’t promote mass drinking. That’s not what we’re about. We’re more about enjoying the beer. Our licensing with LSU beer is more about working with the school and the city and the state that we love and letting people of age enjoy a beer that has their school’s logo.”
The LSU-themed “Bayou Bengal” brew is now the third hottest-selling beer in Tin Roof’s cooler.
“The volume projections we think this beer can do … We’ve done a big expansion based on this beer,” McGehee said.
The brewery, which sits a mile from the LSU campus, wants to expand, but that may depend on whether Glover’s bill passes into law.
“I don’t think having an LSU licensed beer is going to make anyone drink more or less,” McGehee said.