Really, I didn’t. I swear.
Where it all started today was with this post from @BeerInBaltimore, who’d spied this sign at a Total Wine location for American Craft Beer Week:
Needless to say, the fires got lit and a conversation ensued. A lot of stuff got brought up, from the nature of what ‘craft’ is to the merits of undercover macros like Shock Top and Blue Moon as ‘gateway beers’ for those unfamiliar to craft beer to the nature of large versus small retailers and their role in the movement. Here’s a quick (by my standards) recap of what I think are the important things to take away from this:
As far as the ‘gateway beer’ concept goes; the gang at Total and I have different opinions. I don’t consider Blue Moon or Shock Top a gateway to anything but more profit and shelf space for the macro producers who put them out, and many of those chiming in today seem to agree. At one point I mentioned Port City’s excellent Optimal Wit as something I’d consider a gateway; I’ve sold Victory’s Prima Pils for YEARS as THE gateway beer for those who thought craft beer too haughty or exclusive. There are too many great craft options available these days–and local ones at that no matter where you are–to say that the best gateways for new beer enthusiasts are made by the two biggest corporations in the industry, who by the day appear to be headed down the path toward being the SINGLE biggest corporation in the industry. Maybe Blue Moon sends someone down a path that leads to further exploration, but let’s not make things out to be more than they are.
The big point about today’s discussion in my opinion is this: Beer Geeks of the world–what did you expect? I know how this is going to sound for the next few sentences, but I’ll just say it for the sake of saying it; we’re talking about Total Wine here. Not exactly Indie, right? Who else is going to have the scratch to create a banner like the one above and who else is gonna hang it up? The big supermarket chains are only just dipping their toes in the craft beer ocean; like it or not, this is what Total is.
Here’s the important part: There’s nothing wrong with that. Total is a fantastic resource for beer and wine fans alike; they’re convenient and usually well-stocked and if you get lucky you can meet a specialist there and develop a relationship over time that can expand your knowledge and enjoyment of whatever booze you have a taste for. But if you think they’re keeping all the lights on only by way of the craftiest craft that ever crafted, you’re just being naive. About six years ago I left the wine/beer biz and went to work at a small guitar shop here in town. We were right down the road from a Guitar Center location. Customers liked to play it up as if there was some big rivalry; like we were fighting The Man all day everyday, and to tell the truth it’s fun to think that you are. Except the reality is that one day you’re a nice specialty shop with cool stuff and the next day you have to find a niche and step up your game because the Big Box down the road knows how cool people think you are. It’s not fighting The Man; it’s fighting for survival. That little shop I worked at is thriving now; in the time since I left it’s found its groove and become so good at what it does that most of us in the area who play find it irreplaceable. That’s how you survive in business; you make yourself irreplaceable.
But that’s just business. Guitar Center has not only gotten by selling the biggest brands; while they make the vast majority of their money off of them they’ve also gone out of their way to respond to the high-end and independent market by ordering in on small house luthiers, amp builders, and effects producers, which allows those small guys to grow and thrive. Total’s the same way. So don’t light your torches over them hanging an InBev banner for ACBW; if you must, have your little chuckle at Shock Top being craft’s representative and move on (which for the record was all I was originally doing on Twitter today). When 7-11 or CVS hangs that banner, light ’em up.
The only real bone I had to pick today was with this tweet from the @TotalWine account:
“Hear U, but folks, let it go…advocate BEER: bring ppl 2 Craft”
That’s just some cognitive dissonance there. You got called out by Beer Geeks for touting Shock Top for ACBW–I say own it. Don’t tell us we’re the problem after you hang that thing up when it could just as easily be a print-out or chalkboard with a Dogfish Head, Stone, Victory, New Belgium, Sierra, Sam, or Lagunitas logo up there, or any one of hundreds of craft breweries spearheading an exciting new era in the beer business. Total is putting on great tastings all over the country this week to celebrate ACBW for sure, but the average consumer–the one that doesn’t know anything about anything past Blue Moon or Shock Top–doesn’t need to see those logos on banners this week. All it does is legitimize the ‘macromicros’ at the expense of everyone else.
But even in this I see little to get worked up about. Total’s ACBW tasting are going to bring new people into the fold, and their buying power will make the difference between life and death for more than a few emerging craft brewers this year alone I’m sure. They do what they do; I do what I do. We’re all raising the level of awareness for craft beer and in the end that’s a good thing.
This whole post was inspired by my texting my wife earlier today. I said: “Today’s been interesting. Check my Twitter feed.” She wrote back: “Damn Nicky, you got in a Twitter fight with Total?” Well no, actually I didn’t though I know more than a few of you would have enjoyed the entertainment value if I had. Hell, just a couple years ago I would have too, and gone scorched earth about this. But I’m at a place now where I know better what to take personally and what to get upset about. This is simply a matter of perspective. If it means that much to you, just don’t shop at Total. Easy as that. If you don’t like that I don’t have some of the beers you expect to see on my shelves, don’t shop with me. Believe me, I get as many eye rolls and sighs of disappointment every week as I do thank you’s and smiles. And I send a ton of people to Total as a reliable source of beer and wine that my employer either doesn’t stock or can’t get for someone when they absolutely need it. As Beer Geeks, we’ve helped spur a real revolution within an industry that had never really had one here in America, but our blog posts and Tweets and Facebook groups don’t add up to the impact of one person making one purchasing decision. Under all the passion and debate and history, this is a business. Never forget that. Keep it in mind at all times, then make your choice.
Until next time.
p.s. I’ve known a number of Total employees over the years, and they’ve been great folks who have a genuine love for beer and wine and look to help their customers every bit as much as I do. If Total Wine takes offense to anything I’ve written here it certainly is not intended and I’m available to chat in any venue if further discussion is warranted. As always, my views are my own and do not reflect those of Arrowine nor any of the breweries I mentioned in support of.