| "Unfit For Consumption"?
by Larry Howard
Hello Bob - Don't know if you heard what's going on with Craft Beer
Cellar, a family of brick & mortar craft beer retail stores that have
been open for about 6 years here in the Boston area. They boast
(accurately) that their fine reputation has been built by concentrating
on selling the best of the best of craft beer. In that vein, they
recently announced that beginning Jan. 1, 2017 they will become
more proactive about defining the brands of beer allowed on their
shelves. Specifically they said in a press release that “Whether it is a
local brewery, or one from further afield, one thing is true: if it
doesn’t stand up to the beers that are currently on our shelves, we
will not carry it,”
Beers that CBC ownership listed as "unfit for consumption" included
three Massachusetts craft breweries for now but "more will be added
- re moved as we see fit". They went on to list several must-sell
brands, including larger,name-brand brews from the likes of Sierra
Nevada, Samuel Adams, Ballast Point and Firestone Walker.
Many supporters of CBC took to social media to defend this policy
against a strong backlash from multiple venues. Essentially the pro
CBC side said that too many beers in the market today demonstrate
a lack of adherence to style, have off flavors, and have an
inconsistency in quality and those should be kept off valuable shelf
space in favor of better options.
I'd be the first to admit that the void between "great" beer and those
deemed "unfit for consumption" can be massive. And while I'm sure
Craft Beer Cellar outlet would love to have a shelf stocked full of
beers from my favorite local brewery Trillium, for example, one thing
that great brewery prides itself on is not rigidly adhering to styles at
all. So much for that argument.
Craft Beer Cellar's "Do Not Sell" list is according to them meant to be
fluid not rigid. They contend that conversations with breweries
about it has actually led to quality going up in some cases so the
breweries could avoid being on the list
Well, I'm writing you Bob to express a different view To put it bluntly
this is a backward thinking, exclusionary tactic. I sometimes think
people like CBC management see beer as their own private
playground, in which they make all the rules. That attitude is elitist
pure and simple. These so called arbiters of good taste are the
antithesis of what started and fueled the growth of craft beer in the
first place. In fact, the whole concept of a craft beer retail chain runs
counter to the wonderfully egalitarian principles that have made the
American craft phenomenon so wildly popular.
As I see it small and independent brewing has been the driving ideal
ever since craft movement began to take root, back in the early 80s.
To many of us back then craft beer was every bit as much as a
means of drinking far better beer as it was also a reaction to and
rejection of the business values and practices of the mega-
breweries like Bud, Miller, Coors, et al..
Overall I believe this new policy of CBC will be hurtful in a very real
and direct manner to many breweries whose very existence depends
on a free marketplace where their beers are competing on an equal
footing with every other brewery. By imposing their own narrow
tastes on the market CBC arbitrarily imbalances that equality and
that hurts breweries
I believe America's historic prosperity was and is a direct function of
capitalism's law of supply & demand. If customers don't like a beer
they'll stop buying it. That in turn tells the retailer not to restock that
brewery's beer. It's that simple. The idea of a "no list" is counter to
basic free market principles. And it's bad marketing. It is very
difficult to regain a customer you have driven away. For example, if I
happen to like a porter CBC refuses to sell I will go elsewhere and
not come back to their store in hopes they'll deem it worthy of shelf
Well Bob, I've tried to give you both sides of the story but something
tells me I wasn't fully objective I appreciate the fact that CBC,as an
independent business and can follow any policy they want. That's
the beauty of our economic system. But they should remember that
I as a consumer can do anything I want too.
Thanks. And by the way, your column is my favorite of all on the site.
Many thanks Larry for sending me your article. You've given us all a
lot to think about the interaction of the free market and the growth of
craft beer. Hope you get a chance to send another article in to let us
know how this new policy has worked.
I'd like to invite everyone to send me their own columns about
anything related to beer in any way just as Larry did. I select
the best and publish them here. So join in and get writing.
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