News 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. geocool

    geocool Initiate (175) Jun 21, 2006 Massachusetts

    Thanks for posting. Your word on this is all that I needed to hear. Your beer already speaks for itself.
    LeeMarvin and stonermouse like this.
  2. The_Beermann

    The_Beermann Initiate (0) Oct 14, 2014

    Can someone point to the specific provision of Mass. Law that makes "pay to play" illegal? What gets me is the crazy tariff system under which prices have to be posted in advance and cannot be changed. I would guess that adds about 20 percent to the price of beer in Massachusetts.
    dennis3951 likes this.
  3. Todd

    Todd Founder (5,496) Aug 23, 1996 California

    I think some are losing focus here.
    1. Wether or not Pretty Things makes good beer, or Dann Paquette is a standup guy, is irrelevant. It's subjective, emotional, and just shows that you're not paying attention. And chest-thumping is adding nothing to the discussion.
    2. Dann accused Bukowski's Tavern/Lower Depths/the Wilcox Hospitality Group of paying to play activity.
    3. As of this post, Dann has yet to provide physical proof of these allegations.
    4. Dann also stated: "Right now one of the hottest newish brewers in MA pays for lines all over the place." But no name or proof was given. It created irresponsible speculation, and is now forcing brewers to defend themselves in this thread.
    5. The Wilcox Hospitality Group replied in kind with why they stopped carrying Pretty Things beer and why they'll never carry it again. Many are skeptical about the why. A bridge was burned.
    6. Apparently, the Wilcox Hospitality Group recently dropped a major distributor; the same distributor that handles Pretty Things. Related? Yet to be determined.
    7. We're still not hearing the full story. Just the sound of pot shots.
    While this is an important topic, and the discussion needs to happen, all of this seems very targeted and personal at the moment. We should be seeking the truth, using facts and an honest dialogue.
    ceeg, OffTrail, athomasPSU and 17 others like this.
  4. rozzom

    rozzom Defender (689) Jan 22, 2011 New York
    Beer Trader

    Does Dann have a BA account? Now would be a good time for him to chime in
  5. hossthepatsfan

    hossthepatsfan Initiate (135) Nov 18, 2008 Massachusetts

    One small point from one of the "tiny guys" in the state... only because I noticed a lot of "what's the harm" posts.

    The harm is it is hurting your variety.

    We can't afford to install draft systems or a few thousand dollar whack on a pile of kegs because that makes a dent in the small businesses we " little guys" are trying to grow. Should you care? I think you should because there are a lot of us (especially in Massachusetts) and I think a lot of those little breweries are making some pretty nice beers. Those are beers that you might not be able to find as easily because they can't afford to engage in illegal activities that go unmentioned/unreported/ignored.

    All we would vote for is a level playing field and let the beers speak for themselves.

    Bog Iron Brewing
  6. ohiobeer29

    ohiobeer29 Defender (680) Feb 2, 2013 Ohio
    Beer Trader

    I thought this was a standard practice no one talks about really. definitely see why he's angry though
  7. hossthepatsfan

    hossthepatsfan Initiate (135) Nov 18, 2008 Massachusetts

    It's not.... A large percentage of breweries follow the law.
  8. MattOC

    MattOC Aspirant (237) Jan 13, 2013 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    Yes. @Paquette

    I believe they have an event tonight.
    rozzom likes this.
  9. MattOC

    MattOC Aspirant (237) Jan 13, 2013 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    No. 4 is the thing that bothered me the most. You can't just throw that out there and not expect a little blowback.
  10. GoGriz

    GoGriz Aspirant (277) Dec 2, 2008 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    Unfortunately Pretty Things has handled this poorly. All that will come of this will be sore feelings and division amongst many within the industry. I personally don't like the p2p approach but the change Dann wants wont come from his twitter account.

    On a separate but related note IMHO, the craft beer scene has become over saturated with new beer and breweries and THAT is a problem. Everyone should get to showcase their beer on a draft line simply because they are making it? I shudder to think of all the new craft breweries that put out mediocre to bad beer and are going to take issue with not getting a line somewhere. That has a lot less to do with p2p and a lot more to do with not making a splash/good product.

    I'll simplify by saying it this way....if Hill Farmstead was regularly available in town to whoever wanted to put it on, do you think they'd be asked to pay2play?
    Ericness and Auror like this.
  11. beergrrl

    beergrrl Initiate (0) Dec 9, 2003 New Hampshire

    Here's how it used to work in Boston, ca. 1984, when Jim Koch was walking around with his suitcase of beer: there were only so many distributors, strong three tier system, and this was when DOB was more openly corrupt (like you handed in your building permit paperwork with a $50 in between the check and the app), and it was something like Bud, Miller, Guiness, some regionals (Haff, RollingRock, Genny), some non-Guiness imports. You had maybe five draught lines, you bought beer from at most three distributors, all former Irish or Italian you-know-what, depending on the hood. You bought two beers from two distributor and one form the other and coyly played that last distributor to take a line away. It was a game: want Guiness? Take [blank beer too] and knock something off tap. Want Bud Light [new then] take Bud too.

    Enter Boston Lager, and then I think Coors and perhaps SN, the game started changing for the mainstream beers. But this was when almost every bar in Boston was indy, and I wasn't allowed in half of them. FF 30 years and there are more taps, beers and distributors, but fewer actual owners, so I suspect that the overall game hasn't changed, but it's easier to refute because taps are distributed among 3-10 places in the greater Boston area.

    But it was a distributor game.

    CT is much the same way, even ten years ago. NH is opaque because NHSLC doesn't even publish the beerbook anymore, retailers must rely on distributors to tell them what's available. Maine gets kudos because they have enforced equality in allocation and I don't think there are many chain bars concentrated in an area.

    Boston Lager got sales because Jim Koch paid us barmaids a buck a beer bounty for every bottle we peddled instead of draught ... he didn't play the tap game. Was this illegal? Perhaps in wage laws, but the bounty went to me and I sold BL because it was the best beer in the place.

    Fire away.
  12. JCTetreault

    JCTetreault Aspirant (210) Mar 19, 2008 Massachusetts

    Absolutely...*everyone* is asked.
    Sesmu, jrnyc, thegirlgotsoul and 6 others like this.
  13. GoGriz

    GoGriz Aspirant (277) Dec 2, 2008 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    And what do you tell tell them JC?
  14. JCTetreault

    JCTetreault Aspirant (210) Mar 19, 2008 Massachusetts

    We take out a big red marker and put a line through their name on our waitlist.
  15. Auror

    Auror Defender (644) Jan 1, 2010 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    All the brewers in this thread responding, we appreciate the clarity you provide. But if you are going to acknowledge the widespread problem without naming names, it's not going to change.
    jamvt, LeeMarvin, jasonmason and 2 others like this.
  16. Ljudsignal

    Ljudsignal Initiate (0) Jul 19, 2013 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    I think some of that is to be expected given the nature of the initial argument--and I do mean argument, as no real grounds for conversation was ever established, just a "shots fired" kind of scenario between Dann and the Wilcox Group.

    I will say that Dann's words, even if provocative (and they are, make no mistake), do reflect what seems to be an infrequent but still surprisingly widespread practice in MA--even at my (off-premise, outside of Boston) store, there's fierce competition for shelf space and favorable product placement, and for all of the many wonderful breweries and distributors that I work for who adopt the motto of "our product's quality merits its shelf placement, and here's why", there have been those who have approached me with "here's what we can do for you in exchange for these two cooler doors' worth of space", or worse, "you will give us two doors of cooler space or you will not receive access to X product".

    Even beyond those unfortunate outliers, though, I've found the practice of "if you want a shot at X, take Y, M, and Z" fairly common, and I can't imagine it's too different for many other retail and bar buyers in this state. Want, say, a case/log of Parabola? Hope you're selling enough Firestone Walker. Want some of the latest Cantillon drop? Your Shelton Brothers numbers better be good.

    I'm by no means saying that this is a bad system--in some ways, it actually creates a something of a meritocracy in its own right (albeit perhaps a somewhat twisted one), as those accounts who do the best with a particular brewery will be compensated for their effort by receiving the most desirable products that that brewery produces--but it does create an environment in which it seems to me that a true meritocracy cannot survive--there will always be an incentive for an account manager, whether it be on- or off-premise, to favor one or more particular brands, be it for an increased chance at "the good stuff" or for a financial benefit.

    Not actually proposing any solutions to this issue, mind you, just hurling my personal experience out into the maelstrom.
    cavedave, drtth and Auror like this.
  17. BerkBrewJ

    BerkBrewJ Initiate (0) Oct 7, 2009 Massachusetts

    Thank you Todd. Unfortunately, craft brewers walk in waters that were muddy long before we were here. I think the average consumer is blissfully unaware of what really goes on through the backdoors and basement offices of this industry. I'm proud that Berkshire Brewing and so many of our brewing brethren can hold our heads up high for trying to do things the RIGHT way, despite the pressure to do otherwise. Right is not always easy, but you sleep better.

    As other brewer's have stated, we have done business with Wilcox for years and have never been asked to pay to play. I am in no position to speak to other brewers/distributors. What I will absolutely agree with you on is that there are a lot of things being thrown around in this thread that are based in speculation and a somewhat heated exchange in the ever dangerous world of social media. I have respect for both Dann and Martha at Pretty Things, and the Wilcox Group. I think it is dangerous to speculate on the matter, because we risk casting a bad light on innocent parties. What I do hope can arise from the publicity this unfortunately public rift is an imperative to ALL states to review their statutes and enforce them accordingly.

  18. AshlandNacho

    AshlandNacho Aspirant (228) Apr 14, 2013 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    I'm curious as to the true importance of these tap lines in this market to these brewers.

    To me the increase in nanobrew, growler-based or small batch bottled/canned brewers has shifted consumption away from the "lets go get drunk at a bar and mass consume" crowd to the "lets get this quality beer and enjoy it around a fire pit at home with friends" crowd. This shifts the importance of availability at bars to availability at the brewer or at a retail location.

    The people I know big into craft beer consume probably 90% of their beer in a "non-bar" setting, so what taps bars have in place is basically irrelevant. Good beer is sought out and consumed - hell, some of the most popular beer in New England is practically non existent on tap.
  19. robNSB

    robNSB Devotee (461) Oct 6, 2009 Massachusetts
    Premium Member

    We at Night Shift do not partake in the pay2play games either. If we did we would be out of business pretty quick.
    slarrage, sjoeboo, jrnyc and 13 others like this.
  20. beergrrl

    beergrrl Initiate (0) Dec 9, 2003 New Hampshire

    It's been that way since I started bar work. Sometimes "someone" will add a tap tower or a fridge (that's CT style) for the retailer. I wouldn't patronize any retailer that I thought was shaking down a brewery for "shelf-space" supermarket style.
  21. rozzom

    rozzom Defender (689) Jan 22, 2011 New York
    Beer Trader

    Is this based off any sort of official sales numbers, or just how you and your friends like to consume beer. I'm all for the fire pit and all, but because some beer nerds (I don't mean that offensively - I am one as well) like to drink their growlers of HF at home, does that mean the bar scene as a whole is no longer relevant? Again would be good to hear from a brewer, but I'm guessing you're probably off base here.
    FrankLloydMike, jbart and Auror like this.
  22. Auror

    Auror Defender (644) Jan 1, 2010 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    With the increasing fickleness of the consumer (moving away from "my brand") and the increasing trend of rotating taps, breweries are looking for steady volume. "Flagship" is sort of a frowned upon word these days from most craft brewers, but the popular beers that breweries can make most efficiently (and are often unexciting) are the ones that pay the bills and breweries need to get those on tap. One way to do so is by purchasing a bar's tap handle, so that they can count on that certain volume for the year and can focus their sales attention elsewhere.
    rozzom likes this.
  23. BerkBrewJ

    BerkBrewJ Initiate (0) Oct 7, 2009 Massachusetts

    Speaking for us, the importance is the 60% of our business that is draft. The 65 families that rely on these jobs to pay their bills, and still be able to say they are doing what they love. Without those draft lines, we cannot sustain what we have created. This reality applies to all of us, regardless of size.
    Pahn, beertunes, zid and 6 others like this.
  24. Todd

    Todd Founder (5,496) Aug 23, 1996 California

  25. AshlandNacho

    AshlandNacho Aspirant (228) Apr 14, 2013 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    Wow - never in a million years would I have guessed 60% . . .
    VonZipper likes this.
  26. Auror

    Auror Defender (644) Jan 1, 2010 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    "An ABCC spokesman denied those claims, telling Brewbound that there are currently more than a dozen employees in an investigative unit that is specially tasked with “enforcing the laws of the Commonwealth.” The problem, Carlisle claims, is that offenders are rarely brought to the ABCC’s attention."

    1) Seems pretty clear nobody besides Dann wants to call anybody out. Bravo to Dann.
    2) I don't see how the ABCC can claim they are staffed and are adequately enforcing the law but the problem from all accounts is rampant. You shouldn't need tips to figure this out.
    jrnyc, beergrrl and JackHorzempa like this.
  27. hossthepatsfan

    hossthepatsfan Initiate (135) Nov 18, 2008 Massachusetts

    It isn't a pure question of how much of a brewery's business is drafts lines. You have to consider what their distribution model is and the ripple effects it has.

    For us... our tap accounts probably only account for 25% of revenue but that's because 1) we're really small and 2) our tap room has really taken off. As we hopefully grow, that breakdown of draft lines only making up 25% is unsustainable. Having draft lines obviously contributes direct revenue but it is also a huge advertising opportunity for your bottles/cans that might be in liquor stores but then also for your taproom. If you can get a line at a "well respected beer bar", then you're advertising directly to your target market and if people like your beer, they are that much more likely to visit your brewery (where the margins are typically much better) or grab your beer next time they see it on a shelf. Like I was saying, it's not as simple as just what the lines bring you directly.
  28. SouthAtholSuds

    SouthAtholSuds Initiate (173) Nov 3, 2008 Massachusetts

    That makes a lot of sense because Craft Distributors pretty much has the best beer portfolio in Mass. Why would you want that in your beer bar? (SARCASM)
    StuartCarter and bluehende like this.
  29. emannths

    emannths Aspirant (204) Sep 21, 2007 Massachusetts

    It also seems clear that for some reason Dann and other MA brewers are perfectly happy to bitch about it on Twitter and to journalists, but for some reason they don't bother tipping off the ABCC. WTF guys? Publicity stunts are for *after* the regular enforcement channel fail.
    bluehende likes this.
  30. BerkBrewJ

    BerkBrewJ Initiate (0) Oct 7, 2009 Massachusetts

    We are an anomaly, in that most breweries are a 60/40 split in the opposite direction, but still, getting hammered on even 40% of your business is rough.

    Believe it or not, out of 3000+ craft breweries in the US in 2013, Berkshire ranked in the top 100 in the country in terms of volume sold. And we distribute in only 6 states, 3 of which we self-distribute. So, imagine the impact of pay to play on the vast majority of brewers in the country. If we feel it, on a daily basis, imagine what the other 2900+ and growing feel.
    audioserf, Pahn, zid and 2 others like this.
  31. SouthAtholSuds

    SouthAtholSuds Initiate (173) Nov 3, 2008 Massachusetts

    You guys just bribe us with Amazing People like Paul Goldberg. Then he left. :slight_frown:
    apollokim likes this.
  32. Patches826

    Patches826 Crusader (750) Aug 28, 2013 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    It definitely seems fishy. Without the CBG there's no way to get 60-70% of the craft/import beer available in MA. Why would you hamstring yourself like that?
    SouthAtholSuds likes this.
  33. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,493) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
    Premium Member

    @Auror posted: “I don't see how the ABCC can claim they are staffed and are adequately enforcing the law but the problem from all accounts is rampant. You shouldn't need tips to figure this out.”

    I previously posted: “It would be ‘better’ if the laws were simply enforced without the need of a complaint being filed but maybe the law enforcement authorities are just accepting of this practice? The old: it is what it is philosophy?”

    There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that each state’s enforcement authority knows that there are pay2play aspects going on. There is also no doubt in my mind that those law enforcement authorities are simply ‘looking the other way’ unless there is some action (e.g., a complaint) that forces them to do their jobs.

    Permit me to state the obvious: the ‘best’ solution here is for the given law enforcement authorities should do their jobs without the need for some outside party complaining and making the fully understood issue an specific issue.

    Hopefully there are smarter BAs then me that effectively know how to get government workers to perform the duties (that they are being paid with tax dollars) that they should do.

  34. richobrien

    richobrien Devotee (447) Dec 29, 2013 California
    Beer Trader

    Don't think its as simple as making a call to the ABCC. Problem is pretty wide spread. Sales Reps could often get a whole cooler door with some Sox tickets, how many bars are going to turn down cash to pour beer? Why do you think MBC own a lot of the distributorships in major markets like Boston?
  35. Revelation

    Revelation Initiate (0) Oct 13, 2009 Massachusetts

    What exactly do you expect a brewer rep to take to the ABCC? Tell them that X bar manager said "all our lines our committed"? It isn't like we get to see any financials or proof, just some bar manager's comment. While I might believe him/her, it isn't enough to be considered actual evidence.
    StuartCarter likes this.
  36. emannths

    emannths Aspirant (204) Sep 21, 2007 Massachusetts

    I'm not saying they should hand them a gift-wrapped indictment. It's the ABCC's job to investigate and mete out judgement. But since it is their job, you should, you know, probably call them and ask them to do it. The complaint to the public should be that the ABCC isn't doing their job, not that so-and-so is taking illegal money.
  37. BerkBrewJ

    BerkBrewJ Initiate (0) Oct 7, 2009 Massachusetts

    Let me point out that Mass law dictates that draft lines are cleaned every two weeks or every time you change a 1/2 barrel, whichever is more often...something that is both ill-informed and completely unenforced, as no agency is specifically charged with enforcement. This is of particular concern, because at the end of the day, consumers will judge a brewery on what comes out of the tap where they happen to be drinking. Their criticism, by and large, will be of the brewery, not of the publican who fails on his or her responsibility to maintain clean lines.

    I bring this up because it illustrates a fundamental failure in the system that is supposed to protect both the consumer and the manufacturer that is parallel to the discussion at hand. We should not ignore the entirety of the laws that are being left unenforced and impacting the growth of our industry due to apathy.
    #237 BerkBrewJ, Oct 15, 2014
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2014
  38. emannths

    emannths Aspirant (204) Sep 21, 2007 Massachusetts

    Who is we though? Isn't it the manufacturer/brewer? Are you really expecting the consumer--the same consumer who you expect to blame the brewer for the taste of dirty lines--to be fighting for this?

    That's what makes this whole episode weird--this is a dispute between manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers. Without the ABCC weighing in first, it's still little more than the back room bitching that everyone alludes to.
  39. BerkBrewJ

    BerkBrewJ Initiate (0) Oct 7, 2009 Massachusetts

    By "we" I mean anyone who is offering opinion on the matter at hand. I'm speaking as myself, with 20+ years in the industry. I do not "expect" the consumer to blame anybody for anything...but BA members are a tiny fraction of the beer drinking public, and just because someone likes craft beer doesn't mean they can tell if a beer has off flavors due to lines vs. product . That said, I'll gladly thank all of those people who send Berkshire Brewing emails, etc. about our beer somewhere not seeming "right". We are happy to make sure you drink our beer at its best.

    I'd love to tackle the rest of it, this isn't the right forum (pun intended)
    Ericness and Pahn like this.
  40. rousee

    rousee Meyvn (1,033) Aug 13, 2004 Massachusetts

    This is a practice that has been going on for a long time. My most recent post where I mentioned the distributors being more responsible for doing this type of thing than the bar owners or brewers was from 2012. I'm sure I mentioned it before that as well. The one thing that annoys me is how angry everyone seems to be getting about it. Yes -its unfortunate and I'd say its wrong. Yes-it happens and it will probably be a long time before that ever changes. If you make good beer, it should take care of things from a success perspective. Fact is there are bound to be some decent beers that go out of business due to over-saturation in the market and thats more unfortunate than breweries and distributors or bar owners fighting with one another.
    beergrrl likes this.
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