Show Me the Money
In a flurry of tweets last month, Dann Paquette of Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project went to town on pay to players in Massachusetts via Twitter (@PrettyBeer). If you’re not familiar with the practice, pay to play is basically the act of bribing a bar to put your beer on tap. Once thought to be solely a macro brewer tactic, all sizes of brewers and distributors now use it to bump competition and gain valuable exposure at bars, restaurants and other retail outlets. Yes, even your small, local, independent brewer.
The practice is illegal nationwide, and downright sleazy regardless. Some claim that it’s simply capitalism at work in a free market, but making deals behind the scenes and locking out competition doesn’t exactly scream “freedom.” Beer bribery and extortion can take many forms:
• Bars demanding “special” deals, and sales reps offering “special” deals.
• Tap lines going to the highest bidder to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.
• Sales reps paying for and installing towers, beer lines, entire bar systems and cold rooms “for free” in order to secure lines for their portfolio.
• Sales reps only willing to sell beer A if the bar dedicates a handle to beer B.
Unfortunately, very few in the industry are willing to go on the record for fear of reprisal. The shadiness of these deals also leaves little in the way of physical proof of misconduct.
Here’s the bigger problem though: Pay to play works. It’s worked for the big brewers for ages. And as the beer market continues to grow and mature, and as competition becomes tighter, the tactics that work will flourish, whether or not they’re ethical.
As long as the industry remains silent, pay to play will continue to impact, if not dictate, our beer choices. Get proof. Speak up. Go on the record. Make a change.
Respect Beer. ■