It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, recently a bar in Washington DC sold Heady Topper and Hill Farmstead beers
(among others), using DC’s unique laws that essentially allow retailers like bars, restaurants,
and liquor stores to act as importers. The Heady Topper appeared, per usual, in cans, while
Hill Farmstead beers were in bottles and growlers. And therein starts the issue. When Shaun
Hill, brewer and owner of Hill Farmstead found out about the event, he was unhappy to say the
least and called the bar to demand they not serve his beer. Come on Bill, to me, once a beer
is sold the new owner has the right to do anything legal (note I said legal) with it.
Mr. Hill complained that a friend of the bar had brought them as a visitor to the brewery
meaning that the beer was never distributed to the bar for resale. Sorry, but that's legal in
DC. Hill then argued that he didn't want a herd of bar managers or other industry individuals
attempting to do the same thing so the bar should not sell it. Frankly, I don't see how that's the
problem of the folks in DC. And besides, that argument is a bit weak since DC is the only area
that I know of where such resale is fully legal.
It's clear to me that the bar did not do anything unscrupulous or outside the law. The
argument that the beer might have spoiled and thereby hurt the reputation of Hill Farmstead is
weak at best. There's no way the bar would serve anything that was compromised or fell short
in any way regarding taste, freshness, or quality. After all, the bar's individual reputation relies
on the quality of everything they serve. Admit it Bill, if guests consumed beers in poor
condition, it stands to reason that there would be a trail of complaints across social media and
the bar would be punished in the marketplace. These complaints never materialized. On the
contrary, those who consumed these beers seemed grateful for that opportunity, as they
To squash another of your anticipated arguments let me tell you that the prices being charged
for the beers were all fair. This even clearly had nothing to do with the bar trying to bring in a
few extra dollars. It simply looks like a case of a serious beer bar giving its patrons the chance
to try beers that, thanks to incredibly hype, are in high demand. It's the kind of action any
beer fan has to appreciate. I wish my local pub would go the extra mile for its regulars like that!
I'm getting tired of some breweries pursuing an aura of exclusivity so they can increase profits.
Mr. Hill does interviews with in major mainstream publications to promote his product and then
complains how he's being "put upon" due to the popularity of his beer. It may not be so but it
comes off as being hypocritical.
If Mr. Hill doesn't like the laws in DC then try to change them. Failing that maybe he should just
refuse to sell beer to anyone with a DC license plate.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Hey Gina, surprise, but I'm sorry to say but I disagree with you. Hill Farmstead was simply trying
to maintain the reputation of their beer. Think about it. They had no way of knowing if the bar
was pouring Hill Farmstead beer from, say, a Cricket Hill growler, that had not been properly
sanitized or cleaned prior to filling. Of coure the customer is accountable for the quality of their
reusable container and if the beer tastes bad it's his fault and he knows it. However if he sells it
to customers how are they to know it's the fault of the seller and not the brewery?
And more, the bar was pouring glasses of beer, for sale, via a container that was filled off of a
tap many weeks prior. Every serious beer person knows that the beer should be consumed
within a few days for it to taste the way the brewer intended. No wonder Mr. Hill was concerned.
Hill Farmstead and simliar breweries have spent lots of time and energy shutting down sales of
their beers in other places like eBay, Craigslist, and at retail in markets they have not entered
into. By doing this they have consistently worked to protect the quality of their product which in
turn protects we consumers from paying for good beer gone bad. Makes sense to me.
You seem to believe that once a brewery sells the beer, a consumer can do whatever they want
with it. They can bathe in it. They can leave it in the sunlight. Of course they can, BUT (notice the
capitals please, Gina) when reselling a product enters the picture, it allows for the
misrepresentation of the original intention. You see, despite the fact that the contents have been
compromised it is still being sold, for a profit, on the basis of the quality of the brewer's beers.
How can anyone support that?
Now before you tell me they should just make more beer and distribute it in DC and wherever
people want it consider that it's fine if a business doesn't want to expand. Maybe they feel they
are at the right size. Maybe they are nervous about the risks of taking a step up. Maybe its
everything the owners ever wanted it to be. They have that right. Plenty of businesses refuse to
expand as much as they could for many reasons. For instance, restaurants refuse to go
franchise or limit them (and a franchise itself is a limit, of course).The most common reason is
they don't want to lose control of the quality of their product.
I appreciate the fact that there's a distinction between legal and moral arguments here. It's
impossible to deny that you are right when you said everything that was done was totally legal. .
However the underlying issue is not if they can do it but if they should do it. Look, if Mr. Hill's
business plan is to stay local with as much control over quality as possible then he has the right
to do just that. Simply put, if his beer is sent through improper channels, he has less control over
the product that he dedicated his efforts to. And that's not fair to anyone.
Want a bottle of Russian River’s double IPA, Pliny the Elder? Next time I go to DC I'll bring you
back a bottle. How? Well, a store in Dupont Circle sells them. It’ll cost you, and it might not be
fresh, but it’s there. Contrast this situation with one in which a distributor and/or local brewery
representative acts as a steward for their beers, buying older product from the retailer to ensure
that customers get a beer in good condition. That's what Mr. Hill is saying and it makes sense.
Lucky for Bud or Coors, they'll never have this kind of problem. Hey, were you going to throw
something at me?
Here's looking at you, kid! See you next month.