Friday, March 13, 2015

You're boycotting a brewery over WHAT!?

You probably caught wind of the big beer news of the week: Bell’s Brewery has beef with tiny Innovation Brewing over their name (Bell’s slogan is “Brewing innovation since 1985″). Now, this issue alone is enough to merit its own blog, but a lot of people already have that covered. What I wanted to discuss, instead, was the fact I actually heard people saying they were going to boycott Bell’s over this.

To wit:


Really? That’s where you draw the line? Copyright disputes?

Alright then.

Now maybe this is entirely too small a sample size from which to draw a conclusion on this particular case. However, I’m using it to illustrate a larger example: that whenever a brewery of notoriety is involved in some kind of drama – legal, social, or otherwise -  craft beer fanboys are immediately thrown into a tizzy. I saw comments like this last year when Stone had the gall to crowd-fund their new brewery; or when it was revealed that Jim Koch went ape over the fact his beers weren’t on tap at a trendy craft beer establishment. And of course, whenever a craft brewery sells out to Budweiser the “boycott!” chants start flying (but not when Founders sells a minority share to an overseas macro brewery, oddly enough).

With a boycott here and a boycott there! Here a boycott, there a boycott! Everywhere a boycott boycott!

I agree, don't boycott.
I agree, don’t boycott.

As I’ve stated repeatedly, you can’t argue taste; so if you don’t like Bell’s beers I’m not going to say you’re wrong. However, I definitely question people that drop the B-word so easily. Back in the day, a boycott really meant something and actually affected political, social and economic change (study the Civil Rights Movement and you’ll see). These days, “boycotting” is rather meaningless. When was the last time a boycott of any product, service, or corporation lead to true, meaningful and lasting change? And in the beer world in particular?

My point is, we shouldn’t be so quick to “boycott” a brewery over what really are trivial issues. I can understand boycotting the major macro breweries since they actually have power over the industry. If you saw the Beer Wars movie, or if you just read the news, you know AB-InBev and MillerCoors routinely buy up distributors, bully the competition with litigation, and lobby at the state and national level for more ridiculous regulations that only harm small breweries. That’s certainly a legitimate reason not to buy their products. But things like intellectual property disputes between breweries, no matter how petty they may be, aren’t all that big of a deal at the end of the day. If the brewery makes great beer, why deny yourself the opportunity to try it because you disagree with them over their interpretation of IP law?

Maybe I’m just more forgiving than the average craft beer drinker. There isn’t a single brewery I actively “boycott.” I’ll still buy Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout once a year or Elysian Space Dust if there’s nothing better available. Hell, I even buy cheap adjunct lagers and malt liquors to review for my blog. Yes, I know where my money is going in those instances, but the relative pennies I toss their way (or keep in my pocket) really doesn’t affect those conglomerates’ bottom lines. It takes massive sea change in order for that to happen (and it is happening, albeit slowly).
In order for me to put my foot down and say “no more!” the brewery would have to do something that affects me personally or offends me to an extreme degree. I’m not sure where that line is, but if and when a brewery crosses it I’ll make it known.

So where do you draw the line?
  1. What does it take for you to go from simply ignoring a brewery to actually boycotting them (i.e. making a political statement with your purchase)?
  2. Are there any specific political or other issues that would make you boycott a brewery if you found out they took a position with which you vehemently disagree? And if so, would it matter if that opinion was held by the employees personally or the brewery lobbied for (or against) that issue?
  3. Do you think craft beer drinkers in general are too quick to play the boycott card, or is it just a matter of a vocal minority making the most noise?