Bars and restaurants have a finite number of taps, and there is intense competition for these taps among beer distributors. Sometimes, things get ugly. Competition occurs between and among craft brewers and macro brewers, often via their distributors; it even occurs intra-distributor because portfolios can include both craft and macro brands.
A recent example of brand vs. brand competition comes to us from Virginia, where a Twitter user sent out what appears to be a missive from a distributor of Blue Moon, offering its employees cash bonuses for replacing Devils Backbone, Shock Top, and other products with Blue Moon on draft lines. In much of Virginia, Blue Moon is distributed by Premium Distributors, including in the given location of the Twitter user in question.
Probably confidential but Wow! @dbbrewingco twitter.com/Davidctaylor/s…
— Marlboro Man (@Davidctaylor) August 24, 2012
If this document is genuine and accurate, this could be considered evidence of a distributor paying its employees to remove a craft brewer from a draft line in favor of Blue Moon. It’s my opinion that Blue Moon sucks, as does Shock Top, which is also mentioned in the photograph. These beers masquerade as craft, but are made by MillerCoors and InBev, respectively. The best thing I can say about them is that they might get you to move up to Allagash White. These beers are to craft beer what “useful idiots” are to Karl Marx.
That being said, selling beer is the job of any distributor and its employees. Distributors are paid to put products in bars, restaurants, and on the shelves. These bonuses (if genuine) are incentives for a sales force; this is a common practice in other industries and businesses. People who love craft beer have a tendency to romanticize this industry while forgetting that it is also very much a business. People strive to make good beer for a living, but without turning a profit on that beer, we’re left with hobbyists, not an industry.
On the other hand, bonuses, incentives, and commissions that involve cash introduce the potential and possibility of kickbacks. One can easily envision a situation in which an employee of a distributor splits his or her bonuses with people who work in bars, restaurants, and stores that sell alcohol, or even that the bonuses come from brewing companies themselves. MillerCoors and InBev have deeper pockets than any craft brewer. DCBeer is not suggesting that this is the case here, nor do we have evidence that such practices are occurring in this or any instance. We merely have a photo posted to Twitter. However, there have been discussions of this behavior in the past, and no doubt there will continue to be more in the future.
Two things are certain. One, as craft beer continues to grow, there will be increasing competition between craft and macro brewers, as well as between craft brewers, and we’ll see more scenarios like the one above. Two, this is part of the business, but it is still a shame that someone is allegedly attempting to knock a good beer like Devils Backbone off of draft lines and replace it with beer of lesser quality.
DCBeer would like to hear your thoughts on the above. Does this situation make you queasy? Does my speculation? Are you as amused by the “Blue Moon vs. Shock Top” aspect of this as we are? Could anyone possibly “win” that battle, or would it be like a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1984? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Cheers.
* The author would like to thank the following people for their thoughts in crafting this: Sean Dalton, Bill DeBaun, John Fleury, and Tim Prendergast. However, the author and DCBeer.com take responsibility for the post.