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McGeorge professor’s unique focus: craft beer law

Jul 17, 2020

College law professor. Craft beer attorney.

Daniel Croxall (’08 JD) leads an interesting and varied life with these dual professions—and passions.

“I have the world’s greatest kids, and my son has always wanted a dog,” Croxall said, holding up a puppy for an audience of about 50 on a recent Zoom webinar. “We got this little guy last night. His name is Brewer. I did not name him, I promise. My family did.”

Croxall left his job at a large law firm to start Croxall Law in Sacramento in 2013. His focus: legal issues for clients in the California craft beer industry. Soon after, he started teaching law at his alma mater, Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law.

When interviewing for the McGeorge position, Croxall pitched the idea of a craft beer law class. It worked. He has taught the class five times and is working on a craft beer law textbook. Croxall also has a craft beer blog and is active on Twitter at @GoodBeerLawProf.

Croxall spoke at the July 15 webinar coordinated by McGeorge School of Law and the Pacific Alumni Association.

“He is frequently called upon by the media to comment on trends and issues in the craft beer world,” said McGeorge School of Law Dean Michael Hunter Schwartz. “He studies and publishes on a wide variety of topics within this industry, including constitutional issues, unfair competition, anti-trust, distribution contracts, intellectual property and more.”

Professor Croxall shared his story and the nuances of craft beer law—in his words.

Dan Croxall
Daniel Croxall

Getting started as a craft beer attorney
“I had a job at a large law firm representing unhappy companies exchanging money, essentially. I also did white-collar criminal defense and was working that big-law life, spending most of my time at the office. One day, my kids kind of looked at me and said ‘who is this hairy guy who shows up now and then and yells at us?’ I thought it was time for a change.

“When I first opened my practice, I went to the statewide craft brewers’ conference dressed like an attorney. Nobody would talk to me. It was like ‘What are you doing here, attorney guy? You are not one of us.’ I learned very quickly. It’s jeans and T-shirts, if you want them to be comfortable with you. Coincidentally, my brother was opening a brewery in Los Angeles. As he was getting ready to open, he called and said, ‘This is a regulatory mess. I have no idea what is happening here. Can you help me?’ We got him opened and things in the industry started taking off. His friends started calling asking me to represent them. I ended up leaving and opening my own law firm, specializing in craft beer law.

What is a craft beer attorney?
“When I interviewed at McGeorge … they looked at me like ‘What is craft beer law? Is that like skateboard law?’ It is actually an $80 billion industry. Craft beer law involves the study and application of particular regulations in each state. Each state has its own rules by which they regulate alcohol.

“My basic role for clients is in-house counsel. I am the person who they call when they needed to do a distribution deal, when they need to open, when they have employment issues. I am the Jack-of-all-trades, centered in a regulatory environment of what a brewery had to do to get open, stay open and make a profit.

“Craft beer law is just a nugget, but it has constitutional issues. The government tells breweries what they can and cannot say. That obviously raises First Amendment issues. There are a ton of intellectual property issues going on right now, especially with trademarks.”

COVID-19’s impact on the craft beer industry
“The nationwide closures, and restrictions that vary state to state, has led to a very serious threat to the craft brewing industry. You have probably seen headlines that alcohol consumption is up during the pandemic. While that may be true, you have to read beyond that headline and look at what is happening in your local craft breweries. The closures have had a disparate impact on the smaller breweries, who get 70% to 80% of their sales through taprooms. It is a huge chunk to most breweries’ sales. Then restaurants closed and made it worse.

“The ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) has been very proactive with craft breweries, with some loosening of regulations. I applaud them for that … You all have seen food trucks and breweries, and they go hand in hand. But the ABC has allowed them to bootstrap that food truck into making it a bonafide eating establishment, and that way they can still sell beer to customers who are coming ostensibly to buy food. I think it’s more about the beer, but who am I to say? So it has allowed them to keep selling beer under this bonafide eating establishment concept that otherwise wouldn’t have been available.

“The problem is you can’t sell beer indoors anymore. So another thing the ABC has done to help these businesses is they have allowed craft breweries to expand into public space, if it is OK with the city or the county they are in.

“Mergers and consolidation are happening at a pretty consistent rate. Some brewers are doing what is called an alternating proprietorship. If you own a production facility but can’t use it to its capacity, what you can do is bring in another craft brewery and they can use your facility while you are not using it.”

The craft beer industry and social involvement
“You saw this a couple of years ago with the Paradise Fire. There was a nationwide effort led by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. They created a beer called Resilience IPA and sent out the recipe to breweries across the country. The breweries made the beer and sold it and money was supposed to go back to help victims of the Paradise Fire—some of it did, some of it did not. That is another story. But, typically, that would have been illegal because it would be considered an inducement—getting someone to buy your beer for a social cause. An exception was made.

“Now that is happening with Black Lives Matter. There is a beer called Black is Beautiful, brewed by Weathered Souls Brewing Company (in San Antonio), which is one of the few black-owned breweries in the United States. They sent out that beer recipe, and it is being brewed in other states and those funds are being funneled toward social justice causes.

“You will see a lot of movement toward diversifying the craft beer industry. You are going to see a lot more female involvement. There are queer-owned breweries. Latino breweries. More African American breweries. You will find an engaged, active industry that really wants to do well for its communities. It has been inspiring to be a part of that.”

The “buzz” for the potential of cannabis beer
“People want to know when the THC beer is coming out. I just want to go on the record that it is a terrible idea. You do not need people getting that wasted. Federal regulators have an approved adjuncts list. It governs what can be included in beer.

“If you want to add anything to beer other than malt, hops, yeast or water, it has to be on the list. And it’s kind of random. Mangoes are on the list, but bananas are not. Coriander, no problem. Cloves, not so much. Until THC becomes legal federally, you will not see it in an authorized beer.”

What is on the Dan Croxall “must-drink” list?

  • “Number one is Russian River Pliny The Elder … Period. End of Story.”
  • “My brother owns El Segundo Brewing Company in L.A. I am not saying this because he’s my brother and he got me into this thing. But anything from El Segundo is very good.”
  • “We have a very vibrant craft brewing scene in the Sacramento area with 173 breweries. The beer here is very good, especially as you head to the Auburn area. I would add Moonraker to my must-drink list.”

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