Here’s the most interesting article about the beer business that you probably haven’t read: Crain’s Chicago Business looks at Chicago’s “pay-to-play” market, wherein big distributors use cash and clout to drive popular microbrewed competitors out of lucrative taps across the metro area. In summary, the Chicago brewing scene sounds about as clean as its political culture.
The story opens with an anecdote that sets the tone for the story: “When the Wit [Hotel] opened in 2009, bar managers stocked [its bar’s] 16 taps with an impressive selection of microbrews, including Stone, Anderson Valley, Two Brothers, and Metropolitan, a new hometown brand. Then, in June, most of the craft beers from smaller distributors disappeared, replaced by 11 specialty brands carried by Chicago Beverage Systems LLC, a powerhouse distributor of Miller, Coors, and other labels.”
Deb Carey, the co-owner of the New Glarus Brewing Company in Wisconsin, is quoted saying that brewers call Chicago “a whores’ market.” New Glarus pulled out of the Chicago market “because it didn’t want to participate in illegal business practices such as giving away beer to get bars to carry its products.”
The Crain’s story is interesting not just because it blows the lid off a fascinating and dirty world, but also because it does so in such great detail. People speak out about the graft on record, and the piece includes detailed profiles of the city’s various beer barons. It’s a hell of a good read, and raises the question: If you can’t get a good selection of local brews where you live, what’s the reason?