Pretty Things goes to town on "pay to play" in Massachusetts

Discussion in 'Beer News & Releases' started by Todd, Oct 14, 2014.

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  1. Todd

    Todd Founder (6,642) Aug 23, 1996 California
    Staff Moderator Fest Crew Society Trader

    Posting in the wee hours (1:53 AM EDT), Pretty Things (Dann @Paquette) went on a pay to play rant in flurry of tweets that lasted over an hour.

    Many of you were probably asleep, so here's what you missed. And click the links. Many have replies.


    Can anyone guess why we're not served @bukowskiboston or @LowerDepthsBOS and other from that group? Correct, we won't illegally buy lines

    Boston is a pay to play town and we're often shut out for draft lines along with many beers you may love.

    The question is not who's complaining about it, the question is who's buying these lines and why is no one doing anything about it?

    Since I've started as a brewer in 1992 it has been a given in Boston that beer lines were for sale.

    Ever heard the term "committed lines"? This is what it means. Breweries buy draft lines so their lame beers aren't irrelevant.

    Cheers you all. I know you'll understand that this is not about us and we love you.

    The Mass Brewers Guild has no opinion on buying lines since they have many members who do it as a policy.

    Massachusetts is a state that just doesn't care who breaks this particular law.

    If lines were not for sale in Massachusetts then your beer selection would be so much better. That's a guarantee.

    Greedy bars want free craft beer. For what end?

    If bars want lines paid for they can get them in Massachusetts from all kinds of breweries.

    Bars: from now on don't tell us who bought lines from you. We're fucking fed up and we're not the ones breaking the law. We're listening

    Local breweries are fearful that if they mention #pay2play that they're going to get in trouble.

    ever walked into a bar and wondered why they don't serve local beer? #pay2play #dirtylines

    A great beer culture deserves more than greedy, shifty bar owners and brewers to fill their pockets. #dirtylines @ BeerScribe

    Do you know any bar who takes money for their draft lines? Put it out there with the hashtag #dirtylines

    If brewers are with us then we're in great company. f we don't speak up about nonsense then we're doing ourselves an injustice. #dirtylines

    I was inspired by Steve Hindy and Jim Koch tonight. I wanted to talk about this but couldn't. I've been ready to all week though.

    Read today how much arguing it took to get to where we are in craft beer. This has been unspoken all this time. Time to open up #dirtylines

    it's late but if you can re-tweet this to your American friends. We're a bit out on a limb, happily, but would love to see this tomorrow

    Do you know any bar who takes money for their draft lines? Put it out there with the hashtag #dirtylines

    But seriously, someone walks into your bar and offers you $10k a year to pour their beer?

    saw an ad for a bank who gives away free ice cream. if a banker giving away icecream isn't a sign you're getting screwed than I don't know

    okay, to not confuse the hell out of all of us: We're talking about Massachusetts here.

    Ok. Good night all you lovelies in NZ and UK.


    What are your thoughts on pay to play? Know any bars or brewers with "dirty lines"?
    mynie, Roguer, hopley and 11 others like this.
  2. ONovoMexicano

    ONovoMexicano Initiate (0) Jun 14, 2012 New Mexico

    It's funny he cites Jim Koch as inspiration as I assumed Sam Adams was one of the breweries that was paying for lines.
  3. barm4you

    barm4you Initiate (0) Oct 14, 2014 New Hampshire

    It is the same for grocery chain retail shelf to play is here to stay in the capital marketplace.
  4. drtth

    drtth Initiate (0) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    I'd think Hindy and Koch have been doing some complaining and that is what inspired him enough to take the risk of going public with his complaint. Given Hindy's earlier response to a pay for protection scheme I'd suggest that's indeed what's meant by "inspiration." Both are committed to fair opportunity.
    #4 drtth, Oct 14, 2014
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2014
  5. BarefootRock

    BarefootRock Initiate (0) Apr 24, 2013 California

    Wow that is a lot to think about. It sucks to think that great craft breweries (possibly with limited finances) are not getting into bars because distributors/breweries are buying lines. I know that where I live in California there are great beers to buy in stores, but draft line ups are usually lacking the products that are around, including local stuff.
    CowsandBeer likes this.
  6. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (3,097) Mar 12, 2009 New York
    Society Trader

    Am I the only one who had no idea this was going on? I assume if it is happening in Boston it is happening all over. Anyone know if that is true?
  7. digita7693

    digita7693 Initiate (0) Jan 19, 2010 Germany

    Perhaps it is bc I know some people who work at bars/breweries... But I have heard often of bars being offered money or demanding money. I can understand the temptation as a small bar when a big brewery offers you a decent sum, but it is completely unethical and does not foster fair competition. I am sure bigger breweries that are offering money will defend their actions w/ some bs about Darwin etc... but personally I would rather not support bars or breweries who engage in said practices. Granted, there are so many things corrupt in the industry from the 3 tier system, to lobbying against anything and everything craft (eg 64oz growlers will be the downfall of society in FL), that it really shouldn't surprise anyone.

  8. drtth

    drtth Initiate (0) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

  9. drtth

    drtth Initiate (0) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Also, Greg Koch, of Stone has been publicly pretty vocal about this problem as well.
    CowsandBeer likes this.
  10. Retroman40

    Retroman40 Zealot (534) Dec 7, 2013 Florida

    Considering the sheer amount of money involved I'd be more surprised if "Pay To Play" wasn't going on all over the place. Let's face it, whether it's shelf space or tap handles they are commodities with more "demand" than "supply".
  11. wyckyd_sceptre

    wyckyd_sceptre Initiate (0) Oct 26, 2013 Pennsylvania

    I've heard of it happening around Pittsburgh. And not just for money either. Steelers/Penguins/Pirates tickets, neon signs for your bar, etc.

    And also wholesaler reps sellling their entire portfolio, not just single breweries. So if a bar has 20 lines, 5 of them would "belong" to a particular wholesaler. Its an odd business for sure.
  12. mnredsoxfan69

    mnredsoxfan69 Disciple (346) Dec 27, 2013 Minnesota

    I don't think it's going on in the MPLS/STP; although, I could just be naíve. There are a fair number of bars where BMC can't even get on the taps because their full with local and craft brews, for example the Red Cow, Happy Gnome and Stout's Pub. I find it distressing that Boston, of all places should have #dirtylines.
    Nick_V likes this.
  13. drtth

    drtth Initiate (0) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Money and potential profit attract corruption much as ripe fruit attracts flys. But there are a variety of reasons to think that without the 3 tier system the corruption problem would be much worse.
    ncstateplaya likes this.
  14. drtth

    drtth Initiate (0) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    It appears that some "gifting" is allowed so long as the total value is below a certain amount. No shortage of neon signs and posters, etc. in the Philly area either.
    tarawho and JackHorzempa like this.
  15. Ericness

    Ericness Devotee (415) Nov 21, 2012 Massachusetts

    Knowing how things go down in Boston this doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Frustrates me as a consumer? Sure. Surprises me? Not at all. :slight_frown:

    Hopefully this is the start of a change but I imagine this system is pretty deep rooted and won't die easy. Cheers to what could be and what might have been.
    ElectricWizard likes this.
  16. Vizualize

    Vizualize Initiate (0) Jun 13, 2014 New York

    I feel like whenever I see Sam Adams Rebel IPA on somewhere the bar is def getting paid to have that crap on. Out of al the killer IPAs out there you choose to put on Rebel?! GTFO
    Chugs13, audioserf, nolanz14 and 13 others like this.
  17. Fargrow

    Fargrow Initiate (0) Feb 7, 2013 Michigan

    So, is the 3-tier system not doing its job, or creating the problem? Without distribution as a middle man, this would just be considered a discount or rebate that larger brewers are able to stomach because of economies of scale. But a large discount offered to distributors would likely not be fully passed on to bars. Either way, it seems the only thing that can prevent this is consumer demand for Pretty Things beer.
    tarawho and woodfinish like this.
  18. MattOC

    MattOC Defender (627) Jan 13, 2013 Massachusetts

    I'd like to know who this is: "...Right now one of the hottest newish brewers in MA pays for lines all over the place."
  19. drtth

    drtth Initiate (0) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    It's a law enforcement failure.
  20. GeorgiaBeerGuy

    GeorgiaBeerGuy Initiate (0) May 31, 2013 Georgia

    is it the same for "end caps" and "front of store displays?" Yikes.
  21. Rekrule

    Rekrule Zealot (594) Nov 11, 2011 Massachusetts

    There's only one hot newish brewery in MA that has tap lines almost everywhere. Most craft bars carry them, and they are sitting as the only smaller craft option at larger restaurant chains next to SA, GI,Harpoon and the like.
    beergrrl likes this.
  22. Andrew041180

    Andrew041180 Initiate (0) Mar 15, 2013 Massachusetts

    I can only think of one brewery (Depending, of course, on how you define "all over the place") that fits this description and I have a seriously difficult time believing that it would be guilty of unethical or unlawful behavior.
  23. EnronCFO

    EnronCFO Zealot (597) Mar 29, 2007 Massachusetts

    Dude, if you know the answer, just say it.
  24. MNAle

    MNAle Poo-Bah (2,365) Sep 6, 2011 Minnesota

    If I am running a flea market, and you want to set up a table, you have to pay. I may even ask for a percentage of your sales. This is neither illegal nor unethical.

    If I am running a bar, it is a given I get a percentage of the sales. That is why I am in business. But, if I have limited taps, and you want your beer on one or more of them, they are my taps in my bar. Why is it illegal / unethical if I demand payment for your space in my establishment?

    Is this just because alcohol is heavily regulated and flea markets are not? The fundamental act is the same as I see it.
  25. Rekrule

    Rekrule Zealot (594) Nov 11, 2011 Massachusetts

    I don't know the answer but Jack's Abby is the only hot "newish" brewery in MA that fit's the bill.
  26. klawburke

    klawburke Initiate (0) Mar 30, 2013 Massachusetts

    Also, based on Pretty Things calling out Bukowski Tavern Boston, and Bukowski Tavern having three Jack's Abby beers on tap, I'd say that's a pretty fair guess.
    kemoarps, LeeMarvin and mackeyse like this.
  27. Rekrule

    Rekrule Zealot (594) Nov 11, 2011 Massachusetts

    They also have regular taps in a few places that seem a little out of place to have a full time line. (Tavern in the Square, Jake and Joes, BBC...)
  28. kinopio

    kinopio Aspirant (278) Apr 30, 2009 Massachusetts

    Some dummy on twitter named @EZembeck already started with that under Pretty Things original tweet. Said its the "free market" at work which is obviously incorrect. When a bar lets bribes decide what goes on tap instead of consumer demand it is not the free market at work.

    Lower Depths: Accepts bribes, does not accept credit cards.
  29. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (3,097) Mar 12, 2009 New York
    Society Trader

    It's illegal because it is against a law that is on the books. It is unethical because it skews the market to feature those whose company can pay the charge to exclude competitors, and stacks the cards against companies who cannot afford it. As a consumer, I want a company to succeed because it is run well and has a better product, not because the owners can afford under the table payments to lock down taps with their beers. An even playing field benefits consumers.
  30. jbart

    jbart Devotee (461) Oct 2, 2004 Massachusetts

    The Buk's/LD group also no longer carries beer from a major distributor (Craft). Not sure what's up with many of their business practices.
  31. HighLowJack

    HighLowJack Disciple (373) Jun 5, 2013 Massachusetts

    Could easily be argued that the act of buying lines is a way to sidestep the 3 tier distro system. so that's why there is a law against it

    also your analogy is off b/c a flea market owner is a land owner charging rent to businesses who then make money on sale of their goods to retail customers. the beer distributor makes money off the sale of beer to the bar, who then makes money off the retail customer, but the distributor is not directly making money from the retail customer.
  32. JGLittle

    JGLittle Initiate (0) Mar 24, 2012 Massachusetts

    Its interesting that it would seem to me that if you can find a niche as a small brewery bar, you might not have as much competition from other bars who have their lines tied up with regionals and nationals.
  33. Andrew041180

    Andrew041180 Initiate (0) Mar 15, 2013 Massachusetts

    We both thought of the most likely answer given the riddle placed before us. Just because someone is able to determine who a new, hot brewery with tap lines all over the state is does not mean that JA is guilty of anything. I would just like people to bear that in mind in the absence of actual facts/proof/etc.
  34. Todd

    Todd Founder (6,642) Aug 23, 1996 California
    Staff Moderator Fest Crew Society Trader

    It's been happening in Massachusetts for ages. Once a game thought to be played solely by macro breweries, all sizes of brewers are now paying to play. And it's not just brewers. I've heard of wholesalers installing entire tap systems, new lines, and cold rooms in order to secure lines.

    And it's not just Massachusetts.

    Unfortunately few in the beer industry will go on the record and name names out of fear of destroying relationships.

    And of course naming names without any physical proof could get one into some nasty legal issues.
  35. ncaudle

    ncaudle Initiate (0) May 28, 2010 Virginia

    except it's legal in the grocery retail space
    tarawho, pjeagles and DWheeler379 like this.
  36. EnronCFO

    EnronCFO Zealot (597) Mar 29, 2007 Massachusetts

    Spencer was the only other one that came to mind, but I doubt it was them since they're monks and Pretty Things was involved in the launch.

    Jack's Abby doesn't surprise me. I mean, Fairstead Kitchen (nice spot, BTW) is exclusively JA taps. Not sure what the arrangement is, but it's an odd choice for a place that has a really creative cocktail program to go with one brewery.
  37. emannths

    emannths Initiate (0) Sep 21, 2007 Massachusetts

    Shady business in a highly regulated industry? I am shocked I tell you.

    If Dann wants to fill us in on all the whistleblowing he's done to the MA ABCC, then maybe I'll be interested. They seem like a more appropriate audience than twitter.

    If small brewers want me to care their woes, they're going to have to show that they care about mine. Start selling brewery-direct at a discount from MSRP (i.e., instead of pocketing the wholesalers' and retailers' profit, share it with your customers), and fight for more liberal growler labeling rules.

    As it stands, I don't really care too much about pay-to-play allegations. Places like Buk's still have plenty of good beers, and places that don't participate still have plenty of crap ones. If I want a specific beer, I'll scout it out beforehand.
  38. needMIbeer

    needMIbeer Meyvn (1,077) Feb 5, 2014 Virginia
    Society Trader

    I guess I'd never really given the idea any thought but I'm not surprised.
    I'd personally prefer to spend my money at bars who choose not to do business this way.
    spwalshesq likes this.
  39. AshlandNacho

    AshlandNacho Initiate (0) Apr 14, 2013 Massachusetts

    Maybe a year or two ago I was talking to a bartender at a restaurant on the 495 belt in Massachusetts who has a pretty extensive craft beer tap list. They also have a random rogue Bud Light tap and I asked about it. The bartender said they were 'threatened' by the Bud Rep that if they didnt put at least one tap in, they'd make it "difficult" for them via the distributor.

    Granted that's a second hand telling quite some time ago, but with the pull BMC has even down through the distributorships, it wouldn't surprise me.
    kemoarps and SammyJaxxxx like this.
  40. EnronCFO

    EnronCFO Zealot (597) Mar 29, 2007 Massachusetts

    Amesbury Ale House basically admitted this in a Facebook post/comment a few years ago. I forget the specifics, but they had a garbage beer on tap and someone left a snarky comment. The restaurant responded with something along the lines of "Necessary evil to get access to better beers". It was a long time ago and I don't remember all the details, but it stuck with me. I loved AAH when I lived just across the border in NH, but the owners were clearly restaurateurs that identified a niche rather than beer geeks pursuing a passion. I'm sure there are many other places with good tap lists that fall into the same category.
    beergrrl and BeerMe2day like this.
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