Why Does The NYT Perpetuate A US Craft Fiction?

Stan linked to a NYT opinion piece by Steve Hindy who is correctly identified as “a founder and the president of Brooklyn Brewery and a member of the Brewers Association board of directors.” I think it struck me a little differently from Stan. Consider this:

…state laws continue to empower distributors to select brands and manage them however they want — selling those they choose to sell, while letting other brands sit in their warehouses. The only recourse is to sue, and many small breweries lack even a fraction of the resources needed to take on a big distributor in court. As a result, they’re stuck with the bad distributor, which severely hampers their ability to perform and grow as a business. Buy a small brewer a beer, and pretty soon he or she will be regaling you with war stories about fights with distributors…

See what’s going on? Small brewers. No discussion about the different effect regulations have on actual small brewers compared to big national craft brewers like Brooklyn and the other oft cited Dogfish Head. As the owner of Notch Brewing, Chris Loring, recently shared with Max, the interests of big national craft are very much at odds with the interests of actual small and local breweries. The opinion piece, as would be expected from its source, references nothing of that. Gripes about regulations from state to state are only a burden to those business folk whose aims include 18 wheel transportation and national advertising campaigns.

So, while the title of the bit is “Free Craft Beer!” it really could better be “Unleash The Opportunity For Brewers With Scale!” We know what would happen were this sort of shift to occur. We’ve seen it before. It happened in North America in the 1860s to 1890s. It wasn’t that laws were change so much as the railway established itself. All over Ontario many many small brewers making good beer were crushed when previously local brewers like Labatt and Carling out of the southwestern town of London got their casks out of their towns and into the province, the nation and then the world. Yes, that Labatt and that Carling. Prohibition did not close the breweries. Advantages of scale did. The wiping away of borders and other obstacles did. As you can read in the article “The Canadian Brewing Industry’s Reponse to Prohibition 1874-1916” by Matthew J Bellemy in Brewing History, there were 61 breweries in Ontario at the turn of the twentieth century. There were 49 in 1915 and 23 two years later. The strictest form of temperance law imposed locally came into force in 1916. Historically, it is clear that beer and brewing likes a few things like peace and a good growing season. It also likes oligopoly. Beer responds well to aggregation. We know that because all big beer was once small.

Actual small, local and well made beer is antagonistic to oligopolistic economic forces. Actual small batch beer made by actual small brewers is easily crushed. By perpetuating the idea that there is that one homogenous thing called “craft beer” and “small brewers” we ignore that big commercial brewing enterprises are different. We cover over the fact that intra-national importing brewers moving beer coast to coast in the US like Brooklyn, Dogfish Head, Stone or Sierra Nevada pose as much or a greater danger to actual small brewers than Bud or – what ever is like Bud but not Bud – does. It is not wicked that this is the case… but it is a natural economic force. If you want to live in a world with brewers making good beer in every second town you may want to take what national and now exporting international craft argues with a healthy dose of skepticism. A healthy dose of skepticism actually pairs extremely well with actual small scale, local and good brewing.

One thought on “Why Does The NYT Perpetuate A US Craft Fiction?”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Craig – March 30, 2014 7:07 PM
    A healthy dose of skepticism? I should give that a try.

    Interesting though, that Cuomo made his announcement for the farm brewery license at FX Matt, and not say, at one of the states far smaller breweries.

    Alan – March 30, 2014 9:02 PM
    See, if small brewers had their own advocacy group that sort of thing wouldn’t happen.

    Craig – March 31, 2014 9:12 AM
    Or maybe advocacy groups in general are the problem.

    Alan – March 31, 2014 10:19 AM
    It would be a pain in the ass if I had to wade through advocacy for my cheese, car tires, scotch tape or music purchases.

    Craig – March 31, 2014 6:09 PM
    Tape, yes. CSTA and the TSTA, have done a world of good. Those would be the Clear Scotch Tape Association and the Translucent Scotch Tape Association. Don’t forget the LTMTAG, otherwise known as the Low-Tack Masking Tape Advocacy Group.

    Ethan – April 1, 2014 10:28 AM
    i guess I am far less alarmist about it. I’m a joiner; I think the many are more effective than the few- so, both a BA member and a board member of the NYS.BA. I understand the dynamics and politics and economics of it all perfectly well, thank you very much- oligarchs, indeed. But I consider the benefits as outweighing the negatives. Do I fear Bud or Sierra more? Both, and neither. Business has a very straightforward logic to it. But since we live in a capitalist economy and a democracy, I would be some kind of idiot to ignore the potential positive impact of lobbying for less regulation, lower taxes- like, say, not having to dry our spent grain before selling/donating it for feed, as is a fate before us right now. Or yes, being able to fire your distributor if they’re not repping your brand effectively or delivering beer as fresh as benefits its consumption. Something like that, after all, is indeed regional brewery’s only defense against the largest of the small. That, and a continued consumer demand for smaller, localer, less corporatized food & drink.

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