middle brow | citizen how

the problem with cool.

so there's this blog called good beer hunting. (note all the rightward letter-tilts today. trying to balance out my leftism. you know. cuz americans really just want bipartisanship.) anyway, this blog-but-so-much-more is probably better described as a general disseminator of beer culture. a media company maybe? anyway it's made up of a bunch of good people who think all the time about beer and the broader beer business and culture more generally. and last week they tweeted a long rant written by this veteran in the craft beer industry. and they seemed to agree with it. and it's stuck with me. (more on politics next week, i promise.)

anyway, the argument went like this: if craft breweries pursue a model of tap room proliferation (he called them "satellite tap rooms"), they're being uncool. and they're being myopic. ... it'll come back to bite them in the ass. and it'll turn the industry into something it's not, effectively. 

the main reason it's myopic: satellite tap rooms directly compete with the bars and restaurants that supported and made possible that very brewery's growth. in other words: when a brewery drops a tap room into a neighborhood, all of the bars in its orbit are negatively affected. this is so because tap rooms increasingly look like taverns. with beer from other breweries. and with food. and events. and all sorts of "tavern" shit. so, they're very much competitive with bars and rest-stops. and so, over time, those restaurants and bars and shops won't carry the brewery's shit.

the main reason it's uncool: you don't compete with your friends. early-era craft breweries wouldn't have done this, for example. cuz they were cool.

but his point is super muddled. at least to me. and maybe the folks at GBH can clarify it.

on the myopia: why would these satellite tap rooms, which his point requires be *just like taverns* in order to pose the purported threat, in order to be super-competitive, fall out of fashion any faster than the historical taverns in each market? right? and if they never fall out of fashion, why does that brewery need super low-margin sales from bars and restaurants in its immediate vicinity?

maybe the point is: eventually the tap room mystique will wear off. and when it does, people will gravitate back to corner bars. and those tap rooms will have to shutter. and corner bar owners have a long memory, and hold grudges. 

but that point is very weak. because it seems way unlikely: natch, if the tap room is forced to close, the brewery is likely hurting more generally and the corner bar's childish grudge won't matter.

now, as for the cool story: i mean, i have no qualms with the logic in that argument. i think far too many breweries do business like dickheads. like in any industry. ... we try constantly to be cool. to do things right. to remember that we're in a community first. and we're individuals second.

but then... back to that industry vet's rant: the history he’s telling has to be wrong. and i only bring it up because it affects his allocation of responsibility. of blame for the problem he's seeing—i.e. less business. 

i know he's an industry vet and i'm not. but older people aren't always right. hear me out: for a new brewery to survive, it must chase either volume or margin. so, if it's got super low margins, it needs to sell high volumes of beer. on the other hand, if hey've got really high margin on their product, they don't need to sell a lot of it to survive. but... BUT: the pursuit of either threatens the existence of its very first supporter: the local craft beer bar. 

first, volume. by spreading its product to other craft beer bars, a brewery hurts its early friend. that is, the second craft beer bar in a neighborhood makes the first one less indispensable. and once restaurants get into craft beer, any distinction once held by that first craft beer bar is nullified completely. 

second, margin. by competing on the street level, with a tap room or brewpub, a brewery hurts its early friends in the tap room's vicinity (which is often naturally in the same neighborhood as the early supporters).

look at tap takeovers, for example. way back when, these drew people! they were exciting! you can get a local craft breweries entire offerings at one bar on one night. wow! you mean that brewery that just opened in our city. the only craft brewery in our city. and whose beer i can hardly ever find. they'll be at a local bar next thursday? and the brewers and owners will be there too? holy hell! grab your husbands and get to that bar right away after work and hop on a barstool and don't hop off 'til midnight!

these days: tap takeovers are a dime a dozen. and fucking taco bell carries craft beer.

that's the right story to tell. sure, we can only blame craft brewery actions for the decrease in craft beer bar business. but the breweries wouldn't survive without acting in those ways. and so craft beer bars have to get creative to keep business. just like every other bar and restaurant has to do. 

the problem with cool, see, is that it's cool. 

. . . . .

now, he’s right, of course, that we don’t have to be biz as usual. we can chase volume or margin in ways that are “cool” and not in ways that are 80s-ruthless. but it’s easier to buy that point when the story is fair. and blame ain't shifted and finagled and bent to rest squarely on the shoulders of satellite tap rooms.

cuz what's cooler than anything? fighting for the little guy.