Pretty Beer and Dirty Lines

Apparently late last night Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project’s Dann Paquette went on a bit of a rant on twitter using the @PrettyBeer account. The topic: the illegal practice of brewers and distributors paying bars to stock their beer on draft. Draft lines are a limited commodity in any bar and restaurant. For a brewer it is important to have your beer available in as many locations as possible, not just for the keg sales but also for visibility. New draft lines can lead to new customers trying your selections. For big beer companies that routinely buy Super Bowl commercials and billboards paying for draft lines in a bar is a relatively small expense. For a small craft brewer having to pay to get your beer on draft cuts into already minimal profit margins.

The idea that pay-to-play systems have been in place in Boston has been mentioned before. When Yuengling moved into Boston I didn’t understand why so many craft brewers were uneasy, it didn’t seem like a direct competitor. Then a number of breweries implied that Yuengling was notorious for buying taps, and they already knew bars who displaced local craft taps to carry Yuengling. Dann took this to another level, calling out the industry in general, but also specific bars. He also made some vague comments about some local craft brewers getting extra attention because of their willingness to buy taps. He asked people to call out bars that practice selling their lines using #dirtylines.

If you want details of the whole feud you can find all of Dann’s posts on a thread on Beer Advocate (HERE). This was followed by a response from Wilcox Hospitality Group, who Dann called out specifically can also be found on Beer Advocate (HERE). Kevin Slane on BDC Wire did a good job covering the whole thing, read his post HERE. Finally, Chris Furnari at Brewbound did an extremely well researched piece on this (he has addressed this issue before), read it HERE.

Here are my thoughts:

1. Pay-to-play arrangements are clearly a problem in Boston. A number of other brewers have mentioned that, despite the fact that it’s illegal, it is common practice around town. Aside from the legality, I want my bars and restaurants to stock the best beers available, not just beers from brewers with the deepest pockets.

2. While Dann has a point, I’m not sure that a late night twitter rant was the best way to address it. I think it needed to be said, and I’m even OK with calling out specific bars. It might have been a better idea to write a blog post, have a few people look it over, and then publish it on their website. I could have also done without the vague shots at other breweries, it just creates needless speculation.

3. That being said, the response by Wilcox Group was completely childish and poorly thought out. It was a published open letter, so I assume others read it before it went to the media. They clearly need a new PR person (and a better editor, misspelling brewery names is unacceptable). All they needed to say was that the accusations were untrue, but they don’t deny taking money for taps anywhere in the letter (they denied it later). Instead they made a series of personal attacks on Dann and misquoted the prices on Pretty Things beer, implying that it was cost alone that keeps them from doing business.

4. Wilcox also implies that Pretty Things doesn’t make good beer, which is undeniably false. Pretty Things is one of the best breweries in the area, and having a series of “beer bars” that refuse to stock their product is suspicious at best.

In the end, the pay-for-play system needs to be addressed, and it was important for a brewer to take a stand. I hope other brewers follow suit and put pressure on the authorities to crack down on this practice. It could have been addressed in a better way, ideally in a different forum. The response by Wilcox was completely unacceptable. Personally, I am going to seek out bars that have a great beer selection, especially those who come out against dirty lines. I will also proudly continue to support Pretty Things, one of my favorite local breweries. Feel free to chime in if I missed anything, if you agree or disagree. Thanks!

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