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Radio commercials call the home of a popular Texas beer “the little brewery in Shiner, Texas.” But San Antonio-based Gambrinus Co., Shiner Bock’s parent company, is anything but little. It’s a big business, and managing its legal affairs is no small task. Bill Levine has worked as general counsel for privately held Gambrinus since January 2000 and says he juggles about as many responsibilities as a bottle of beer has bubbles. Levine, 39, handles all legal matters, ensures regulatory compliance and handles governmental affairs for the company and its spirits-producing affiliates, Spoetzl Brewery (maker of Shiner Bock), Pete’s Brewing Co. (maker of Pete’s Wicked Ale) in Palo Alto, Calif., Oregon-based BridgePort Brewing Co. (maker of India Pale Ale) and wine importer Old Bridge Cellars in Napa, Calif. Levine, two paralegals and a secretary make up Gambrinus’ full-time legal department staff. Gambrinus, founded in 1986, also imports Moosehead beer from Canada and Corona — which Levine says is the seventh-best selling beer in the United States — from Mexico. Its three top-selling products are Corona, Corona Light and Shiner Bock. In April 2004, the company added a new beer to its lineup, when it reached an exclusive agreement with Austrian brewer Trumer Brauerei to brew and sell the beer Trumer Pils in the United States. It’s brewed at a Gambrinus brewery in Berkeley, Calif., and for sale across the United States. Making sure all sales and distribution of the various products of the many breweries fall within each state’s alcohol guidelines (Shiner Bock, for example, is sold in 31 states) is a task that falls to Levine. “It’s a lot to keep up with,” he says. “With Shiner Bock, we’ve slowly expanded the reach of the product. Late last year, we added the Pacific Northwest and a couple of states in the Midwest. We still have to go through all the same registrations and licensing, et cetera, so we need to get with each of the states and find out what we need to do to get the appropriate license. There are also differences in the licenses you need for an imported beer and a beer made in the U.S.” Keeping things in line with 50 different sets of rules is what Levine calls his biggest ongoing challenge. “The 21st Amendment to the [U.S.] Constitution, which repealed Prohibition, also gives power to the states to regulate alcohol, so each state is empowered to come up with its own rules and laws,” he says. “Some have limits on where and when a product can be sold. Some limit container sizes. As a manufacturer, you want to make one product and container that fits all the guidelines, so you can use [it] everywhere, because it’s not efficient to make a different type of container, for example, for each state.” Every aspect of distributing and selling spirits varies from state to state, he says. “It can be something as crazy as, ‘Can we put a mirror up in a bar?’ There are different state laws concerning wholesale distribution and retail sales,” Levine says. “In some states, we can offer rebate coupons, or can do sweepstakes. In others, we can’t. Each state has its own limits about what we can put on a label, and what we absolutely have to put on a label.” Jim Bolz, chief financial officer of Gambrinus, says Levine effectively juggles many balls at once. “As general counsel, he’s got to bounce from one topic to another very quickly,” Bolz says. “He handles state issues, federal issues, contracts and transactions, among other things. He moves across a variety of areas pretty seamlessly. He also shows great attention to detail and is a good negotiator. He’s very thorough. He’s tough when he should be and knows when to back off a little.” Jackson Walker works on some corporate matters and litigation with Levine. Patrick Tobin, a corporate and securities partner in Jackson Walker’s San Antonio office, says that Levine stays cool, regardless of how many issues he handles at any one time. “One of the things that makes him an excellent general counsel is that he not only understands the law in the alcohol industries, but he thoroughly understands the business itself,” Tobin says. “He’s very bright, focused and organized. No matter how much he has on his plate, he keeps his eye on the target and moves ahead.” Levine says there is no such thing as a typical day at the office. “I guess that’s one of the things I’ve loved about it,” he says. “I can be dealing with a foreign importer or our domestic breweries one day and handling trademark work and distribution issues the next.” Many days, Levine says, he is not even in the office. “I do a lot of travel,” he says. “I go to other countries to meet with the manufacturers of the products we import. There’s a lot of government-affairs-type work involved, so last week, I was in Washington, D.C., visiting with the Federal Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau. There are also various industry conferences I go to across the country.” The job also has its perks. One is a discount on company beers. “We’re in an office building, not at one of the breweries, so it’s not like we can just walk downstairs and carry off a case of beer,” Levine says. “People in the company also get first crack at good seats for Jimmy Buffett concerts, for example, since he’s a Corona spokesman.” TAKING A SHINE TO CHANGE Levine came to Gambrinus from another beer-selling company, Genessee Brewing Co., based in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y. He says he left Genessee when the company started to run into financial woes. The Associated Press reported in December 2000 that top management of Genesee Brewing had completed complex financial negotiations with a private group of investors, effectively dissolving the company. The new ownership group turned Genessee into High Falls Brewing Co. LLC. “When I was at Genessee, they were having some business problems and, at the time, were trying to find someone to acquire it,” Levine says. “So, I decided it would be a good time to look for something else in the beer industry.” Levine says he found the Gambrinus vacancy after a brief search. “It was really a cold call,” he says. “When I knew I was leaving Genessee, I wanted to see if there were any opportunities to stay in the beer business. I called various contacts I had made over the years, and someone suggested I contact Gambrinus. It was just good fortune.” Levine says he enjoys the alcohol industry for the myriad of daily challenges. “Well, I have enjoyed beer for quite a while,” he says, laughing. “But really, it is a fun industry. It is one of the most regulated industries, along with railroads and insurance, which makes it different than any other consumer product.” Staying in the same industry meant Levine did not have to adjust to a new business. The adjustment he and his wife, Rebecca, made when coming to Texas was one he says he has not minded a bit. “The weather was easy to get used to,” he says. “We don’t miss the snow so much.” Levine, who spent six years with the Rochester-based firm Lacy, Katzen, Ryen & Mittleman before joining Genesee, also says he prefers in-house work to being part of a firm. “First and foremost, you get to be part of the business,” he says. “To be a good in-house attorney, you have to know all aspects of the business. If you’re outside counsel, you don’t get that kind of specialized knowledge, because you’re always working on multiple projects. People from the company can come ask me a question pretty much anytime.” Levine graduated in 1987 from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in political science before earning his J.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Law in 1990, but he says he never planned on a legal career. “As college was winding down, I was deciding what I wanted to do,” he says, “and I just thought law school and the legal profession was right for me. I was not following anyone in my family. It was just instinct. I thought it would be challenging and interesting, and it sure has turned out that way. I really do enjoy what I do, especially in the role I have now. Every day is a big challenge.” And at the end of every day, Levine goes home. Sometimes, at home, he cracks open a beer to relax, but he won’t comment on what kind. “I will say it’s one of our family of fantastic beers,” he says and laughs.

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