In the happy world of beer, there exists an illegal practice that is prevalent but almost never discussed: Pay-to-play or committed taps. According to a post on Esquire's Eat Like a Man blog, the practice happens when a (usually bigger) brewery or distributor bribes a bar into devoting a tap exclusively to their beer(s). The advantage this gives the big guys is easy to see; the little guys are easily pushed out. But besides being bad business, Esquire notes that according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau the practice is illegal.
Last night, Cambridge, Mass.-based Dann Paquette, co-founder and brewer for Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, took to Twitter to express his anger about the issue. He wrote that Boston is a "pay to play town and we're often shut out for draft lines along with many beers you may love." Pretty Things is a small brewer that has an extremely limited distribution, and the practice of committed lines, as it is known in the industry, has pushed their kegs out. Paquette wasted no time in naming the names of some of the biggest bars in town in his Twitter exposé.
Can anyone guess why we're not served @bukowskiboston or @LowerDepthsBOS and other from that group? Correct, we won't illegally buy lines— PrettyBeer (@PrettyBeer) October 14, 2014
Paquette's tweets raised not only awareness but curiosity. Esquire dug up a report from Crain's that uncovered a "trendy Chicago hotel bar" that had accepted pay-outs and bribes from a MillerCoors rep. Paquette's series of tweets ended in a call to action:
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— PrettyBeer (@PrettyBeer) October 14, 2014
Do you know any bar who takes money for their draft lines? Put it out there with the hashtag #dirtylines— PrettyBeer (@PrettyBeer) October 14, 2014
And so it goes. In order for craft beer to thrive, everyone has to play by the rules.
UPDATE: In an open letter addressed directly to Dann Paquette, Gordon Wilcox, the owner of Bukowski's Tavern, writes that the lack of Pretty Things on tap at his bars is not to due a "pay for play" system. Wilcox writes that he chooses to serve beer based on decisions made about "price vs. quality," pointedly claiming that he has elected not to serve Pretty Things' beer because it is an "inferior product." Says Wilcox:
"I hope in your late-night apparent drunken tweeting, you have not hurt all of the other small businesses and small local crafters out there today. We will continue to support the small local brewers, we just won’t be supporting you."
Both Pretty Things' original accusation and Wilcox's response have stirred the pot at popular beer forum BeerAdvocate, with many commenters pointing out that Wilcox didn't exactly flat-out deny the allegations. Wilcox does write, however, that "though common practice of giving away kegs or other gifts to move product may be common with other companies, I am forced to question your own practices."
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