Andres Gil Zaldana is a beer enthusiast, but hasn't worked in the beer world. He's been commuting back and forth to Colorado over the past year but hasn't lived here. He knows how to work with people, but doesn't know most of the players in the state's craft beer industry. He's an optimist, an attorney, a glad-hander — and he could be just what the Colorado Brewers Guild needs needs to move forward financially, politically and logistically.
"Colorado is one of those places that you just want to be a part of," says Gil Zaldana, who left his job inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway to take over in March as the executive director of the Guild, which represents the interest of about 170 of Colorado's 310 or so breweries. A lawyer who worked with nonprofit organizations, he was also the director of the Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"Since my background in craft beer is as an enthusiast, I have a certain amount of independence. Everything is new to me so I have no preconceived notions," he says. In other words, he will be able to listen to the concerns of all of Colorado's breweries without anyone believing that he favors certain interests over others.
That could come in handy among Colorado breweries, who waded through an angry dispute last summer after fourteen Guild members — including the state's four largest craft breweries — defected to start their own craft-beer advocacy group, Craft Beer Colorado. The breweries cited several reasons for their action, including frustration with former director John Carlson's leadership (Carlson later resigned), the continuing presence of Breckenridge Brewery (which was purchased by Budweiser parent company AB InBev in 2015 and is no longer considered to be a craft brewery) in the group, and what they said was a lack of effective advocacy and transparency.
Although the rift was mended in November when the two groups reunified with a new board and new bylaws, there are still plenty of political divisions among the Guild's members, and a few competing agendas.
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In the end, though, they all want the same thing, Gil Zaldana says, which is to effectively fight legislative and regulatory battles in order to create the best business and community climate possible for craft beer. Along those lines, Gil Zaldana will also be able to participate in the tail end of the legislative session, which saw craft breweries trying to take action for the first time in a while, rather than simply reacting, Zaldana says. With his background working with nonprofits, member relations and small business, he believes he will be effective.
He also plans to meet as many brewery owners as possible. "The best way to get to know the brewers in this state is to meet them in person, so I'm on a tour," says Gil Zaldana who lives in Boulder. He also got to Denver in time to experience the Guild's marquis event, Collaboration Fest, which took place Saturday.
In the near future, Zaldana would like the organization to expand the kinds of services it offers its members, with an eye toward growing its membership and keeping existing members happy in changing world. Some of the things he will look into include: creating a health insurance plan that breweries could offer employees; hosting a trade show; and increasing the amount of technical resources available to breweries.
"My message to everyone is full-steam ahead," he says.