Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Library and Craft Beer Bullies

I have the strange fortune of being in two industries, one as an employee, the other as a blogger, that perceive themselves as being bullied. The former is librarianship, the latter is craft beer. There's no shortage of ink, digital and actual, spilled over this in librarianship. We're the victims of budget cuts, subject to the whims of vendors. We're not in control. When we exercise what agency we have, we might think we're driving, but the correct analogy is probably closer to downhill skiing. We're heading down a path, dodging trees, trying not to fall, but we think we're going to end up in the valley regardless of what happens on the journey. "Yes, there is a teleology here."

Or so the story goes. I find a tension in the discourse around this subject: that libraries and librarians are agents, are superheroes, and yet at the same time find themselves objects, acted on, then perhaps reacting. I prefer to think of it as complexity. Agents at one moment can be structures the next, and the opposite is true as well.

Craft beer defines itself, in large part, by what it's not. It's not bland, light, made with adjuncts, not made in fifteen locations. It's not macro beer, made by Bud, Miller, Coors. And yet what it's not is a myth. Craft beer can be all those things, though perhaps in two rather than fifteen locations, and even owned by the large companies mentioned above. Like libraries, craft beer has a chip on its shoulder, feels oppressed, and, perhaps like libraries, with good reason. To wit, a document that purports to show the incentives offered by one distributor of beer, Reyes Premium, to remove Devils Backbone, a Virginia craft beer, off of local draft lines. 

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 Lenin.* 
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.

There's more information, and speculation, here.

Both in libraries and beer, much of any alleged bullying happens behind the scenes, away from the public. The paying public doesn't see the how and why of that draft line moving from one beer to another, or the how and why of an ebook or journal that's no longer available. It our job in both those fields to acknowledge, publicize, and fight that bullying without coming across as whiny or shrill. The solutions are also similar: education, outreach, marketing. We're targets; let's adapt.

* The initial DCBeer.com post attributes this quote to Marx. I have corrected it here. Photo credit to twitter user @wort2yourmom.


  1. Great article. Didn't know that libraries put up with so much bull. I am familiar with beer however. I raise my fancy beer glass with a fist.

  2. Yeah, I was definitley unaware of the library situations. You can always see how much influence craft beer has when the brewer is local. The closer to a local brewer the more bars embrace that craft beer experience. Everything around Founders and Bells in Michigan displays that but it the quality of bars slowly dwindles the farther away you get.