Learning the Laws of Alcohol

October 26, 2015

It is no secret St. Louis is a beer city. Craft beer makers Schlafly and Urban Chestnut, former powerhouses Lemp and Falstaff and of course, one of the biggest names in the industry, Anhueser-Busch, are all breweries located right in our backyard.

So when Gary Rutledge, former vice president and general counsel at Anheuser-Busch, joined the SLU LAW community as a Professor of Practice this past year, Callis Family Professor of Law Matthew Bodie saw the perfect opportunity to teach students the law and regulations behind this huge piece of St. Louis culture.

“The alcohol industry is one of the most complex and highly regulated industries in the country, if not the world,” said Bodie, an expert on corporate, labor and employment law. “At the same time, it is a very dynamic and creative industry, which constantly challenges the status quo, including the legal and regulatory system within which it operates. It was our hope that we could provide students with an understanding of how legal, social and political forces impact the ability of an industry to conduct its business.”

And SLU LAW students were more than eager to learn the tricks of the trade from two of the most qualified legal professionals in the industry. The class, called Regulating Alcoholic Beverages, is held each Wednesday at noon, immediately maximized its capacity at 26 students.

“The unique and intriguing subject of discussing the regulations on various types of alcoholic beverage drew me to the class right away,” said 3L Sara Robertson. “I was eager to learn from Professor Rutledge based on his personal experiences at A-B working as in-house counsel, in contrast with Professor Bodie's vast knowledge in the area.”

That experience and knowledge keeps the class hands-on and the students engaged from the moment they walk into the classroom. In one lesson, the professors passed out various types of alcohol to the students as soon as they sat in their seats. Not to drink, of course, but to learn its federal labeling requirements. One by one, students were handed Budweiser, light beer, wine, champagne, hard cider or a distilled beverage. On each of their bottles, students were to locate the brand name, alcohol content, net contents and health warning statements that go along with the specific labeling requirements of their certain type of alcohol, then were taught the federal laws, permits and agencies behind it. “We hope that if they already enjoy an alcoholic beverage now, that this class won’t spoil it for them,” Professor Bodie quipped.

Other topics the class will cover throughout the semester include: Prohibition; the “three-tier” system of producers, wholesalers and retailers; state and federal conflicts under the 21st Amendment; and other areas such as corporate social responsibility, marketing and advertising, intellectual property, craft brewery and industry associations.

There will also be five in-class exercises where students take on the role of particular groups and explain how they would advocate for the legal reforms that the various groups seek.

“I am really looking forward to that,” said 2L Rachel Jag. “It helps us all think about how many interests have to be balanced when the government makes a policy decision affecting any alcoholic beverage.”

By the end of the semester, Professor Bodie says the class will know a great deal more about alcohol than most other lawyers will ever know.

The alcohol industry is no stranger to hurdling its fair share of problems. Going from Prohibition to a system of very complex laws and regulations, facing anti-alcohol opposition, incurring large excise tax increases and dealing with reputational issues and inter-industry fights created many uphill battles, but through it all the industry continually survives and grows.

“Studying how the industry works through these issues will help future lawyers improve their skills in analyzing and solving complex problems and advocating wisely on behalf of their clients,” Professor Bodie said.

No matter where their career path will take them, these future attorneys can agree on the depth of experience they gain from this course.

“I have background knowledge of the beer industry from working at Anheuser-Busch, and I can’t think of a better way to learn than from two people with tons of experience in the area of law I would love to work in,” said Jag.

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