This is a continuing series of posts about the "darker" side of the craft beer industry. To catch up on the topic visit the first article in the series devoted to <a href="http://blindtigerpodcast.com/?p=128" title="Craft Beer Criticisms? Part 1">contract brewing</a>. Also visit <a href="http://blindtigerpodcast.com/?cat=37" title="Craft Beer Criticisms">this page</a> for the entire series.
Last time we discussed the amoral art of contract brewing. While there are valid concerns for breweries who do a significant amount to almost all their brewing on contract, this worry is more for those craft beer enthusiasts looking for a purer moral high ground over the mass producing competition than for the average beer consumer. Contract brewing is not in itself immoral. It is merely a tool that can be (and often is) used to the betterment of the craft brew world. Or it can be used to mislead the public into thinking a brewery is small, authentic, and giving back to the local community when it is nothing of the sort.
Today’s topic cannot be said to be living in an amoral gray area, this heinous activity has crossed the Rubicon into the dark side of brewing. Today’s nefarious topic is a blight upon the world of brewing, a painful, pernicious, pantopragmatic practice called “pay to play.” Wikipedia defines it thusly:
Pay to play, rass sometimes pay for play, is a phrase used for a variety of situations in which money is exchanged for services or the privilege to engage (play) in certain activities. The common denominator of all forms of pay to play is that one must pay to “get in the game,” with the sports analogy frequently arising.
How does this apply to craft brewing? Well Stone’s Greg Koch passive-aggressively called out the competition in a public tweet. He tweeted the following:
It’s called “Pay to Play” folks. It happens all the time. It’s at its worst when it openly insults our intelligence & your choices are sold.
Implying that your local bars decision to place that rotator tap is based rather on monetary compensation than sales.
How this works is that a sales rep for a brewery will inform the bar that for the privilege of having their beer on tap the brewery will offer recompense for this profitable honor. This “quid pro quo” means that the bar gets to increase profit by selling the beer as well as getting their kickback and the brewery gets to sell a higher quantity of their beer which hopefully translates into extra profits beyond the loss of the indemnity.
The phrase “quid pro quo” should raise alarm bells as this is generally considered to be thee feature of bribery. The craft beer market is becoming increasingly competitive and that benefits everyone but that competition is supposed to be over who has the better product, the better sales force, and the better brand. It is not supposed to be the legal bribery by the more cash flush breweries over the more cash strapped and morally principled.
What’s worse is that for the consumer there is no way to be aware this situation is even happening. Does your local six pack place carry the entire line of Stone IPAs? Does it carry only a few of the local craft brewery’s beer? Is this because the owner one or does the one sell significantly better than the other or does the owner get fiscal reciprocity for the “proper” choice? There isn’t a way for consumers to know.
This is a dark, common practice in sales and as markets gets more competitive and craft breweries get larger this invisible injustice will only increase in prevalence. I only hope that once outed for doing so a brewery is sufficiently punished in the court of public opinion to dissuade other breweries from even considering such a irredeemable practice.
If only tarring and feather were still in vogue.