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. LeRose

    LeRose Poo-Bah (1,711) Nov 24, 2011 Massachusetts

    Payola...the paying of cash or gifts for airplay. SSDD...

    This quote from an article in Performing Songwriter sums it up. Note the second paragraph. There is just as much debate on whether payola still exists or not, similar lack of proof, similar reluctance to be the whistle-blower. The other "big name" implicated in 1960 was Dick Clark - he sold off all of his interests in recording businesses just before the Congressional hearings and enjoyed a long career. Freed basically said screw you guys, and paid the price (his allegedly abrasive personality not helping in the least). Payola was how things were done in through the 50's, but is now illegal although the fine amounts to a slap on the wrist. Hey now..."undisclosed payments"...those we can let slide. Cockroach indeed.

    "After Freed went down in 1960, Congress amended the Federal Communications Act to outlaw “under-the-table payments and require broadcasters to disclose if airplay for a song has been purchased.” Payola became a misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to $10,000 in fines and one year in prison.

    The loophole in the legislation was that it didn’t say anything about “undisclosed payments.” And so payola joined the cockroach and the fart joke on the list of things that, despite changing times, always manage to survive."
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  2. WkndatBernardus

    WkndatBernardus Initiate (0) Feb 7, 2009 Massachusetts

    Ok, how about Tree House or Trillium. Think they have trouble grabbing a line at any craft bar in the area?
  3. HighLowJack

    HighLowJack Disciple (373) Jun 5, 2013 Massachusetts

    they aren't big enough to produce consistent supply so it doesn't matter

    Trillium and Publick House have an awesome relationship but even at Publick House how often do you think Congress St. or Fort Point is available? not that much
  4. trevorpost

    trevorpost Meyvn (1,384) Aug 3, 2008 Pennsylvania

    With regards to p2p...
  5. drtth

    drtth Initiate (0) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    All that means is I've reviewed multiple beers and places, and made multiple posts. But what you should take seriously is the flaws in your thinking that others are claiming to see. They might just be right.
  6. rozzom

    rozzom Meyvn (1,057) Jan 22, 2011 New York

    P2P shouldn't be regarded in any way as a good thing

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  7. Auror

    Auror Defender (623) Jan 1, 2010 Massachusetts

    As I outlined earlier, I think your premise is mistaken. Your point is that fiercer competition will drive breweries to create better beer, or that the better beer that exists will trump the p2p. I don't disagree with this to an extent, but I think there is sufficient competition to keep the draft market competitive even with the removal of p2p. The cream will rise to the top, there will just be more cream available in the market.
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  8. WkndatBernardus

    WkndatBernardus Initiate (0) Feb 7, 2009 Massachusetts

    P2P is a good thing because it will weed out the establishments foolish enough to participate in it because they will invariably offer draft lists that aren't as good as they could be. Sorry but, these brewers have been eating way too many wah-mburgers and French-cries. Just focus on making superior quality beer and they won't have a problem getting into most accounts.
  9. rozzom

    rozzom Meyvn (1,057) Jan 22, 2011 New York

    Perhaps we should just start kneecapping the brewers who don't churn out HF/Alchemist level of beers - that will be an even better incentive

    I'm all for healthy competition resulting in a better beer in my hand, just not when it's via illegal means
  10. emannths

    emannths Initiate (0) Sep 21, 2007 Massachusetts

    The problem is that doing it via pay to play involves a weird negotiating dynamic, where the negotiating power of the restaurant group and the wholesaler are at least as important as the quality of the beer.

    A better way to get beer prices to better reflect quality would be to allow them to fluctuate more, like on a daily or weekly basis.
    BBThunderbolt likes this.
  11. dcbullet

    dcbullet Initiate (122) Dec 18, 2013 California

    What's the difference between this and just pricing your beer lower?
  12. beergrrl

    beergrrl Initiate (165) Dec 9, 2003 New Hampshire

    Why would any out of state brewer get into a nearly unreversible business arrangement with a wholesaler to play in the Boston market if they have plenty of business at home?

    Really ... Why? Because beer drinkers in The Hub are sick of driving? Because it's so profitable [it ain't]? I can't think of one reason for a successful brewer to enter Boston other than ego.
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  13. drtth

    drtth Initiate (0) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    In many states if you discount your beer that’s just fine so long as you offer the same conditions of discount to all customers. This involves a private one-on-one "extortion/bribery" type situation that is unique to a particular transaction. That’s the illegal part, not only in Boston and MA but in most if not all states.
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  14. WkndatBernardus

    WkndatBernardus Initiate (0) Feb 7, 2009 Massachusetts

    I think it's safe to say that Pretty Things is in the middle of the pack in terms of craft beer brands available in MA - neither sub-standard nor phenomenal with medium to high priced items. This means that they are in a very competitive segment of the category where a lot of this pay to play tomfoolery is going on. However, instead of making a phenomenal product that stands above everything else and garners big demand or a sub-standard product that is super cheap and is favored for its value, they have decided to complain that the game isn't being fair to them. They should be figuring out how to increase the demand and value of their products instead of pointing the finger at Boston area bars.
    mackeyse likes this.
  15. dcbullet

    dcbullet Initiate (122) Dec 18, 2013 California

    I see. I didn't realize your couldn't price alcohol differently to different customers. That just seems...un-American.
  16. MNAle

    MNAle Poo-Bah (2,380) Sep 6, 2011 Minnesota

    You're coming pretty close to paraphrasing Gordon Wilcox's response.
  17. Auror

    Auror Defender (623) Jan 1, 2010 Massachusetts

    I could be wrong, but I think the majority of people in this thread are not necessarily defending Pretty Things, but trying to oust p2p in general in order to ensure greater consumer choice.
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  18. MNAle

    MNAle Poo-Bah (2,380) Sep 6, 2011 Minnesota

    Well, maybe not so safe to say. From the beer ratings on this site, we have the following BA scores for some of the top Pretty Things beers:

    Barbapapa Imperial Russian Stout - World Class (96)
    December 6th, 1855 EIP (East India Porter) - Outstanding (92)
    Saint Botolph's Town - Outstanding (91)
    Meadowlark IPA - Outstanding (91)
    Our Finest Regards - Outstanding (91)
    Jack D'or - Outstanding (91)
    There's No Place Like There - Outstanding (90)
    Fluffy White Rabbits - Outstanding (90)
    Once Upon A Time 1939 No. 1 Ale - Very Good (89)
    1955 Double Brown - Very Good (88)
    Babayaga - Very Good (88)
    American Darling - Very Good (88)
    Field Mouse's Farewell - Very Good (88)
    Baby Tree - Very Good (88)
  19. bleakies

    bleakies Disciple (384) Apr 11, 2011 Massachusetts

    You say this as if there's one recognizably best beer and a bunch of also-rans, when in the present market there's a lot of really good beers and people's tastes vary as to which among them are the very best. I count Pretty Things beers as among the best. You don't. Why would I trust your opinion over my own?
  20. sjverla

    sjverla Disciple (397) Dec 1, 2008 Massachusetts

    You're making it sound like they're setting out to make upper-mid-tier beer. Satisfied with mediocrity. I'm sure everybody strives to make the absolute best product they can. Just because Treehouse, HF and Trillium have near-cults surrounding them doesn't necessarily make them any more deserving to be on tap than Pretty Things.

    And if the bar is trying to charge Pretty Things $30k for a line, but they got Heady or Julius that 'cost' is getting passed on to the customer by charging $15 for an 8 oz pour. And people will pay it. One way or another, an establishment that engages in P2P is going to get their money, because that's what it's all about for them - not the beer. And you're fooling yourself in thinking 'the cream rises to the top.' In this situation, money wins 100% of the time.
  21. skivtjerry

    skivtjerry Zealot (598) Mar 10, 2006 Vermont

    It's like backwoods cooking. If you don't keep things stirred up, the scum rises to the top. Dann is stirring.
  22. southdenverhoo

    southdenverhoo Devotee (436) Aug 13, 2004 Colorado

    And that's a big step. Not the last step but a big step. Let's keep talking about it.
  23. BBThunderbolt

    BBThunderbolt Poo-Bah (9,804) Sep 24, 2007 Kiribati
    Society Trader

    Not being rude, but have you read the thread? If you start at the beginning, and go maybe 5-6 pages deep, all the fundamentals are laid out. Alcohol is regulated differently than most all other industries, and a lot of the details are mentioned.

    I feel your pain at having to dig through a 15 page (and growing) thread. Grab a couple sixers, order a pizza and wings, and dig in. This is a very, for lack of a better term, cathartic thread.
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  24. dcbullet

    dcbullet Initiate (122) Dec 18, 2013 California

    No, I did not read the thread.
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  25. BBThunderbolt

    BBThunderbolt Poo-Bah (9,804) Sep 24, 2007 Kiribati
    Society Trader

    Don't blame ya. If I hadn't been following it all week, I wouldn't read through it all at this point either.

    The condensed, TL;DR version: Some breweries/distributors sometimes pay certain bars/restaurants to serve their beers. Some bars/restaurants, in some places, sometimes, expect to get certain "favors", sometimes demand them. Probably, most of this is illegal. But, does the governmental agency charged with enforcing those laws have enough manpower/interest in enforcing them? Why is alcohol different than most other industries, where this is just cost of doing business? Lots of panties in bunches. Serious topic worthy of discussion. Yes, it probably happens in all of our areas.

    Cheers bud!
  26. BlindSalimander

    BlindSalimander Initiate (0) Aug 16, 2010 Texas

    13 pages to get to the root of the issue.

    There are already laws in place to handle this scenario.

    The question is does the electorate want to fund the manpower to enforce the law. Kind of the problem with most things in this country.

    Go war machine though.
  27. soze47

    soze47 Savant (917) May 22, 2010 Massachusetts

    I'm not saying I agree with any p2p practices at all, but I have two questions on this specific instance coming from a complete outsider to the industry -

    How much of this is Wilcox group violating the pig rule (little piggies get fed, hogs/big piggies get slaughtered)? It sounds like they went too far and people no longer want to feed them, but other groups/bars are still in the "acceptable level" of illegal activity so distros and brewers will pay (or at least not call them out, even anonymously) on this forum or in the press via tips.

    How much connection to organized crime still exists in Boston in this industry. To quote Rodney dangerfield in back to school when discussing the sanitation/garbage industry in the movie back to school - "I'm not sure if you know who runs this business, but I can assure you it is not the Girl Scouts." Other than business and bottom line concerns, how much other fears could be existing before mom and pop breweries start blowing whistles?
    paulys55 likes this.
  28. beergrrl

    beergrrl Initiate (165) Dec 9, 2003 New Hampshire

    There is little or no organized crime in Boston outside of Beacon Hill and the Financial district.

    Remember Dianne Wilkerson? "The bribes were allegedly accepted in return for her help in obtaining a liquor license for a proposed nightclub and transferring public land to a federal agent posing as a private developer."

    Until Boston cleans up the liquor licensing and someone cleans up the corrupt officials (yes, ABCC inspectors used to expect cash to not find underage drinkers in a lounge) the on premises business will be dirty. The lines will be dirty. The game is rigged.
  29. TheBeerShop

    TheBeerShop Initiate (0) Jul 23, 2012 Massachusetts

    I debated for a long time whether to chime in, or or whether to comment on this post or not. As somebody in the industry in MA who has some industry information, but no dog in the race because we run a package store as opposed to a bar and we're not in the Boston area, perhaps I could clarify some things and add some insight. Please note; that I'm not in the bar or brewery industry, so I can't fully speak for them. My goal is not to call anyone out, nor to judge, but perhaps for something good to come out of this. I would like the industry to instill some sort of ethics into craft beer standard operating practices.

    If I had to bet my money on what will become of this and how things were done, I would say that every bar, distributer, and or brewery is currently operating within the legal scope within the law. At least they are on paper. In short, everything was done legally. Much like every other industry there's loopholes within the laws and there's ways to get around certain laws without breaking them or changing them but that requires one to walk a fine line. Perhaps some bars and/or corporations blatantly break the law, but it promise you, on paper it is well within the guides of the law.
    The real question is "Is it ethical?"
    What should be ethical in the craft beer community? I'd like the community to use this opportunity to talk about it and set ground rules.

    And now let me take this time to play devils advocate and explain how pay to play has perhaps helps/helped the craft beer industry. Let's say the year is 1970, and bar X is just setting up shop in Boston. Distributor X and distributor Y walk-in and deals are made within the legal scope of the law. ( though perhaps as I said earlier perhaps probably not ethical) Distributor has six lines, distributor Y also gets six lines. Now this is 1970 and at the time there's less than 100 breweries in the USA.

    Fast forward to the year 2014. Five new distributors have popped up as well as 1000's of breweries. By the years and, they're set to be 4000 breweries in the USA. This bar, still has the same 12 lines it's always had. It was set up by distributor X and distributor Y. Without pay to play, how would these new 3000-4000 breweries get on tap? Again I'm not saying it's right but I'm saying it's probably done within the legal scope of the law and again, it doesn't make it ethical.

    I'll go on my own rant now and ask the question why does everybody care which beers on tap in Boston? The reason is statistics show that up to 60% of beer sold in Massachusetts happens in the greater Boston area. So to be there, is to be where the moneys is so of course money is going to be involved. It's just the Capitalistic way. Just my 2 cents.

    Now, now how to educate the consumer to find the real dirty lines. Go to your local package store and ask for a keg list. Now look over the list.

    If you notice bar a bar X has five beers from a specific distributor, and if you go back there some time later and that distributor has three beers on tap or six beers on tap that's probably evidence that the lines are probably free play.

    My 2 cents -
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  30. Roxie_B

    Roxie_B Initiate (0) Jun 1, 2014 Alabama

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  31. cappy201

    cappy201 Initiate (117) Mar 25, 2012 Massachusetts

    The document you linked is 187 pages long. It would be helpful if you would tell us which pages (if any) relate to this discussion.
  32. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (2,485) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
    Society Trader

    Subpart C—Commercial Bribery - § 10.21 Commercial bribery. (page 144-145)
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  33. Brutaltruth

    Brutaltruth Poo-Bah (4,115) Mar 22, 2014 Ohio

    I personally go to various local places that offer great selections and considering the prices brought in for good growler beer (25 or 30 dollars plus) I really have trouble going past the field of dream hypothesis.
    If you brew it (GOOD or GREAT) THEY WILL COME. Pretty Things is a fantastic brewery that commands a good price, not outrageous, but decent enough....we pay for quality, that is all I am saying. If you want swill or fizzy yellow nothing it is a moot point. Pass up the people who ask for a freebie and go to those who are seeking your product for their taps.
    cavedave likes this.
  34. Brutaltruth

    Brutaltruth Poo-Bah (4,115) Mar 22, 2014 Ohio

    An incredibly interesting bit of insight into something most of us as consumers have no knowledge of. That said, one of my local favorite spots has had Lennies' Big Eddies on tap here and there for fantastic below 7 dollars a growler. As a consumer I have zero problem for getting raspberry imperial stout or Old Embalmer at a great price. On the other hand, I just paid 25 plus for Nogone Sunturn, I would GLADYLY pay that for some Pretty Things although there are few places that would carry such a great brew and like you said, this is the year 2014 and there are 1000's of brews out there to quench the good thirsty palates of consumers....variety is a spice of life.

    With that in mind, distribution for good stuff, good distributors seem miniscule compared to places willing to carry good product. Is the problem of merely having distributors that are leery of taking on product that may gather dust on the keg OR on the shelf due to past trial and error OR is it pay to play with greasy palms and burning wallets?
  35. paulys55

    paulys55 Initiate (0) Aug 2, 2010 Pennsylvania

    I'll tell you how. Let me give you a real life example first. Back in the late 80s early 90s, when I got into the bar/restaurant business, we had 3 main distributers in my area. Back then it was basically the Bud house, the Coors house, and the Miller house. For a while, at least at the places I worked, this was all we had, all we knew, all people wanted. Then, in the early nineties, Sierra Nevada was starting to gain traction and customers would ask for it more often. A new, and much smaller independent distributor was starting to offer Sierra Nevada products plus other craft offerings. I don't recall if a rep came in or we sought them out but fast forward to your question and my point. Because those 3 original distributors were the only guys in town at the start, does that mean they own your bar and no one else can sell you beer? Does the bar owner choose what products he sells or is it the distributor? I don't know about you, but where I work, the only people who have a say in what gets sold in our bar is the customer, the owner and the manager. If a new distributor comes to me and has good beer in their portfolio, damn right I'm going to give them a line or two. If I find out a beer I want is available in my county, damn right I'm going to find out where I can get it from. I've had distributors give me shit about "giving their line to someone else". FUCK THAT! They don't pull that crap here anymore. My job is to offer the best products to my customers as I possibly can and the minute I let someone limit my ability to do that is the minute someone else is running my business.
  36. jmdrpi

    jmdrpi Poo-Bah (8,375) Dec 11, 2008 Pennsylvania

    That would seem to eliminate the idea that the law varies state by state.
  37. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (2,485) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
    Society Trader

    What varies from state to state are the more specific laws about what constitutes that bribery, how and what kinds of discounts distributors can offer and to whom, what sorts of promotional material can be given or loaned, dollar values of such material, etc. And, as noted above in other posts, who pays for or can offer services like line-cleaning, additional draught or refrigeration equipment, etc.
    For some examples, see the NJ ABC regulations I posted above.
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  38. klawburke

    klawburke Initiate (0) Mar 30, 2013 Massachusetts


  39. harrington_ptj

    harrington_ptj Initiate (138) Jul 11, 2013 Connecticut

    I had a couple Blatant IPA's at the Pat's game on Thursday - $12 each but I was still suprised they had breweries beyond Harpoon and Sam's. They also had an assortment of Berkshire bombers at the smaller beer stands.
  40. RummyRedbeard

    RummyRedbeard Disciple (335) Mar 8, 2013 Colorado

    Amen to that! That was like the updated, beer industry version of the freedom speech in Braveheart!
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