The three tier system that arose in the United States after the passage of the 21st Amendment has, to be understated, some foibles and frustrations. If you aren't well-acquainted with this system, essentially there are three groups: producers, distributors, and retailers. Producers, well, produce, and then sell their products to distributors. Distributors then take these products who sell them to retailers. Retailers, in turn, sell products to consumers. One frustration, not just with the three tier system, but with markets encountering scarce resources in general, is that allocation of product can be contentious. This is especially true with consumables like limited release beers. On Wednesday, Nick Anderson, @The_Beermonger on Twitter and the long-time beer buyer for Arrowine in Arlington as well as ARLnow's Your Beermonger colum, broadcast through Twitter some of his concerns and frustrations with beer distribution. To call it a rant would be to cheapen the passion and experience behind the tweets and also disregard the important knowledge contained therein. We've captured Nick's tweets in a Storify below, and DCBeer's John Fleury catches up with Nick for a clarifying interview afterward.
John Fleury had the chance to catch up with Nick Anderson in a short interview via email. What follows is a lightly edited version of that interview.
DCBeer: First, I would ask if you have anything you'd like to expand on. I know you answered some questions from people on Twitter. Is there anything you'd like to add, clarify, or extrapolate on?
@The_Beermonger: That I'm not as much "sad for the future of craft beer" as I am "sad for the future of independent craft beer retailers."
DCBeer: What do you think about the growth of craft inevitably going towards box stores? On the one hand — much like music — we all want X to grow past cult status. But when it gets bigger, it gets taken to the masses, and the little guys who pushed the craft gospel now are cut out of the loop by those cashing in on the popularity the little guy started. How do you combat this as the "early adopter"? Any ideas how to "share the wealth" between box stores and little guys?
@The_Beermonger: We can't 'keep' craft beer for ourselves. Frankly I enjoy seeing brands like Bell's, Dogfish Head, Lagunitas, Flying Dog, Ommegang, Boulevard, Brooklyn, etc., in grocery stores. Folks who are discovering craft today through their local Giant or Safeway and really getting into it are going to end up at specialty stores like Arrowine at some point. The more the merrier. My concern specifically is with the rarities/special releases; people don't know how the business works. All they see is that maybe Giant/Total/Whole Foods has something, and I don't, or they got more of something than I did, and [consumers decide] that therefore [these stores] must be 'better.' Rarely is beer a zero-sum game, but it is with releases like these; you discover your place awful quick when that happens.
DCBeer: The whole situation seems very High Fidelity to me. Do you see any comparisons?
@The_Beermonger: I was talking to a reporter who called today and made the analogy to bands "selling out." I'm not of a mind to automatically get up-in-arms when a brand jumps to that level; every situation is different. Drink what you like, and if you have to live in a bit of a gray area so be it–life is full of those.
DCBeer: If the distributors don't care, why should the consumer? Do you think the consumers — especially here in DC/MD/VA — actually have the power to change the way business as usual is run for the specialty beers like Hopslam?
@The_Beermonger: Distributors care, but they only have to care so much, because at the end of the day they're getting my money no matter what. The consumer has to decide for themselves if it matters to them or not. I'm only offering my opinion. In the end, short of an effort to amend VABC regulations, I'm not sure how much can be done about it–distributors, breweries, retailers are all businesses, and at the end of the day, we have to make money. Voting with your wallet is fine and good (and encouraged), but when a massive chain decides to open their checkbook, it can drown out a lot of voices with a quickness. Retail is very post-Citizens United; alcohol retail especially so since it's so hard to actually make money doing it.
DCBeer: Any final thoughts? Like I said: anything that you weren't able to touch on via Twitter that you may have thought about afterwards or simply didn't have the room for?
@The_Beermonger: Yes: please bear in mind that my opinion is heavily skewed and biased because of my position and experience as a buyer at the retail level. I'm not claiming to be right, nor am I demanding more Hopslam or anything like that. I fear that big boxes cornering the market on special releases and shutting out small, independent stores is the first step to shutting them out completely. There are many ways in which the distributors here in Virginia are great to work with, and I have a lot of friends at these companies. They're good people, and without them I wouldn't be able to offer any of the cool things that I do on a regular basis. I have a philosophic disagreement with how they go about handling some of their products and where their priorities lie. This was just me venting after becoming increasingly frustrated about things over the past few months is all.