Well, Sunday morning is not as easy as I thought it might be here today. I'd caught wind of a still-unfolding story involving the city's Memphis Taproom, Local 44, and Resurrection Ale House beer bars at the beginning of this weekend. I thought "wow" at the time and wondered how big this might get.
I won't go as far as to say I saw this coming, but I saw something like this coming. Things have been relatively quiet, peaceful, and amicable for sometime now. It was only a matter of time as more consumers, retailers, wholesalers, and suppliers are vying for what they see as a piece of the lucrative pie that is non-industrial/macro beer.
Add to this gnawing feeling the growing awe and angst that I've felt around all of these ridiculously hyped beers...HopSlam, Pliny the Younger are just two beers that we could start the conversation with. Lest I sound like a hypocrite, if you read here closely enough you likely know that I have a case of Monk's Blood, of Nugget Nectar, a six-pack of HopSlam, and bottles of Consecration in my personal inventory. I like drinking the interesting stuff as much as anyone, but I will refuse to throw elbows for it...now, more than ever.
With all of this in mind, I'd been tossing around, for the past few weeks, the formulation of an article themed around the idea that the percentage of good guys (and ladies of course) in the work of "craft" beer has been dwindling. Not rapidly, mind you. And dwindling more at a glacial pace, and not the kind of global warming glacial pace, but I think you see what I mean. Don't get me wrong, there are still way, way more good guys at all levels of the business, but with more hands reaching for more money, something's bound to give.
From my first-hand (and sometimes first-and-a-half hand) experience and anecdotal evidence, Consumers want more beer...and the more rare, the more "exotic", the more we want it, right? From the other end, experienced talented Brewers/Suppliers and up-and-coming Brewers/Suppliers are battling to make beers that are the most interesting and demanded by the Consumers. And, they are making products that Consumers have never even dreamed they might want or like. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.
But, in the frenzy to raise revenues and get their products out to and seen by an ever-widening and growing market of beer drinkers, Suppliers use Distributors to get their product to the Consumers. Wrapped around all of this is The Law. The Law written by legislators, overseen by an agency, and policed by a badge and gun. Most of whom I would challenge in their understanding, particularly, of the wide world of beer as we know it in regions like Philadelphia.
So how did this debacle at Memphis Taproom/Local 44/Resurrection Ale House get to this point? Only a few know 100% for certain. Some of the conjecture floating around attempts to center the discussion solely on Pliny the Younger and the inability for some to get it on their tap handles while the MT-44-RAH family of bars apparently have three. Fair? Unfair? I suppose that comes down to whether you like Brendan, Leigh, and what they are doing and have accomplished...or not.
And while I have a hard time getting my head around someone "ratting out" these folks for a keg or two of PtY, it may well have been the tipping point. Seriously? Would you risk your reputation on a $300 keg (or whatever PtY is costing bars nowadays)? Is the future of your bar really dependent upon getting a keg of PtY for a couple of hours? Is the hassle really worth it? I'm hearing more from folks on the retail end of things that the hassle of such things is getting less and less worth it....more on that to come.
What I'm increasingly more convinced of comes down to more of a conversation about envy. Jealousy of what these two have accomplished in a remarkable amount of time. (in case it's important to you, I should point out that I do not have a personal relationship with either Brendan or Leigh...simply a friendly professional one as a result of what I do here at The Brew Lounge.)
If you're the type of bar owner, though, that would do such a thing (and, yes, I'm going out on a limb without solid proof, that this was the anonymous tipster workings of a competing bar owner) then you fall into the category that I described earlier as a growing, albeit minority, people who do not have the best interests of the industry at heart. Are you not getting the beer geek cred/hype that you think you deserve? Then, I'd venture to suggest that you're not doing your job year-round to earn this. Getting a keg of PtY does not earn you a year-round reputation as a destination beer geek bar. And, do you really want the beer geeks? You know they can't sustain you year-round, right? You want a solid, diverse crowd. Once again, to risk completely alienating the beer geek crowd that you think you may want over a keg of PtY seems utterly foolish. That's why I'll continue to bring this back to a more personal and jealous angle of how/why this story is continuing to unfold.
Oh, The Law, in this case? Ha, I barely touched on their involvement in this. But, our friend Lew Bryson has done an admirable job of covering this area for quite some time now and has a well-construed synopsis of what has transpired this past week. Go and read it; it beats the heck of what I'm writing here.
The only two cents I would add on this topic, since I'm not sure it has been said letter for letter, is that before the PLCB and The Law go attempting to clean other's houses, they better make damn well sure that their's is first in order. That may be some interpretation of a parable, I'm not sure.
My point there is that I have never put 100% faith in what so many will adamantly point to as the website source for licensed brand registration in Pennsylvania. Is it what retailers and distributors should be able to point to with faith that the list is accurate?...sure! Even though there's a date at the top of the webpage, I've never put confidence that the fingers that type the entries on the list are getting it right on every line of roughly 3000 beers. Cynical? Perhaps. Reality in today's culture of less-than-concerned-with-100%-accuracy where all kids get a prize? Maybe.
From a Retailer's point-of-view, doing their homework, I believe, comes down to taking the PLCB's word (on their website) for what is registered and what is not. But, more importantly, working with the Distributor whose role it is to honor contracts as the prudent middleman between suppliers and retailers? At some point, retailers have to, I believe, fall back on what should be the distributor expertise in brand management for their market. Naive? Perhaps.
And, from the Supplier's perspective, it may sound like a lot to ask, particularly for smaller operations, but I firmly believe that breweries have to take responsibility for where their product winds up. I don't necessarily mean each retail account and the gray and black markets. Rather, I mean on a state-to-state, distributor-by-distributor, market-by-market basis. I believe that, once again as the market and brand "expert", the Distributors need to fill their role responsibly, but the brewery/Supplier needs to understand the State, its laws, etc. related to where their beer is sold. Thoroughly...inside and out. Sorry, it's just too important to neglect.
Finally, I urge you to become better versed in the distribution of alcohol. Don't take what I spill out here as anything close to gospel. I don't have the right answers and I surely have a lot to learn of my own. Though, I've yet to come across anyone who has all of the right answers and can speak definitively on these laws and the enforcement of them. There is way too much rumor-mongering and here-say taking place without much substantiation. This story is a complex one and one that deserves to be dealt with in fact and not supposition and half-truths.
Breathe....I said to myself that I would keep this to just a few paragraphs, but I had a difficult time sleeping last night and a lot becomes more clear during sleepless nights.
Agree? Disagree? I'm sure there are (and I have already been engaged in deep, lengthy, interesting, and thought-provoking discussions at Dock Street and TJs yesterday) many flavors of varied opinions on multiple sides of this complex story.
I don't know where this is all going, as I am surely no expert on the intricacies of beer distribution laws and politics. But, one can only wonder what this may portend for Philly Beer Week.
Oh, and maybe now's a good time to remind all to DRINK LOCAL...it's a bit less complicated.
* The title of this posting is loosely inspired by the well-formed title of a well-written blog: Shut Up About Barclay Perkins and can be construed in a few different ways as to what I really mean by it. And you could stand to be correct in each way.