big beer thorn brewing

Big Beer Wants Unity…When It Suits Them

The Brewer’s Association pulled no punches at the annual Craft Brewer’s Conference that was recently held in Nashville. BA chairman, Eric Wallace, addressed the issue of big beer in a fiery speech:

“Clever and deceptive packaging design, omission of ownership statements on labels, intellectual-property violations, denigrating and expensive marketing campaigns, monopolistic practices choking off raw materials and distribution channels, rampant violations of trade practices and exclusionary tactics in venues and accounts in many markets — these guys are out to eat our collective lunch and take your kids’ lunch money as well.”

Pete Coors’ Plea

He’s not wrong, but his words did draw the ire of Pete Coors, chairman of the board for Molson Coors Brewing Co. So much so that Pete decided to write an open letter to the BA about it. Don’t mind the fact that he never sent the open letter to anyone at the BA or that it was only released in a trade publication, Beer Business Daily, which is membership-based. Because nothing stays hidden on the internet, Coors knew that the open letter would leak out to everyone anyway. Still, it’s pretty funny to release an “open letter” that only goes to a small select few tradespeople. The full letter can be viewed here on Brewbound, but there are a few choice parts.

The leadership of the Brewers Association does a great disservice to the entire beer value chain by attempting to pit one part of the industry against another.

You must know that it is insulting to those of us who don’t meet the clever criteria of your self-proclaimed definition of “craft brewer.” This approach prioritizes insults and division over unity for a beverage that has been used to unify and celebrate together for generations.

We share distributors, many of whom would not be able to distribute Brewers Association beers without the scale provided by the large brewers. You claim that your members are precluded from distribution at retail, while I visit account after account that do not carry any “big brewer” products.

That is a slippery slope that does not end well for our industry. We have enough competition inside the beer business and outside it with wine, spirits and, increasingly, marijuana.

You undermine your credibility by pitting us against one another to the ultimate detriment of the entire beer industry.

Coors’ letter stirring lots of feelings throughout the craft beer community and ignited many rebuttal letters, including a well written, point-by-point letter from founder and owner of Ninkasi Brewing, Nikos Ridge.  It also garnered a letter of support from Coors’ big brother, AB InBev, in a letter from CEO Michel Doukeris to wholesalers that was posted in a tweet by Harry Schuhmacher from Beer Biz Daily:

Scott Metzger or @beermonkey on Twitter had a few choice tweets for Michel Doukeris and his “unity speech”:

Metzger’s tweets are a succinct argument for why these pleas for unity seem disingenuous. This argument that all beer brands need to stand together against outside threats from liquor, wine, and now Mary Jane is a familiar one. It was used in the AB InBev’s promo video called “Six Viewpoints from the High End” which simultaneously called for unity and crapped on the BA’s, at the time, new independent beer seal. Why does craft beer need Big Beer in this fight? Craft beer has grown in this country despite big beer, not because of it. Independent craft beer is still such a small segment of the overall beer market and these big brewers have so much more weight to throw around, legally and politically. It’s not surprising that AB InBev would praise the viewpoint of Coors, but after so many of their marketing dollars spent maligning craft beer, why would they be pushing for unity now?

Why Big Beer Want Unity

It’s pretty clear why Coors and ABinBev want the support of the craft beer community. Sales and volumes are dropping for Big Beer and they are struggling to stop the bleeding. As reported by Fortune,

AB InBev, Heineken, and Molson Coors have all reported significant drops in beer volume in the U.S. in the first quarter of this year. According to The Wall Street Journal, AB InBev (BUD, -2.46%) saw a 4.1% drop, Molson Coors (TAP-A) a 3.8% drop, and Heineken (HKHHF, +0.64%) saw a “high-single-digit percentage” drop.

Craft beer has also has seen a dip in growth over the last two years, but overall, the craft breweries that Big Beer has bought out, are doing pretty fantastic. Terrapin Brewing, which sold to MillerCoors a couple years ago, is doing great sales-wise with a 25% growth in sales through the end of March. Golden Road Brewing, owned by AB InBev, opened up a brewery and beer garden in Sacramento to a full house after much opposition from Sacramento area independent brewers. Maybe this is why Big Beer wants to focus on “uniting” the craft segment. Focus on what’s working, in the U.S. at least, and put money where the growth is still happening, even if it’s at a slower rate than in previous years. It seems even with indie brewers working to distance themselves from Big Beer, the bulk of craft beer buying people don’t know or don’t care who owns these former craft breweries.

Craft brewers have long memories and there have been too many instances of Big Beer behaving badly to try and get everyone to come together now. Americans are drinking less beer than they were in past years and that definitely has something to do with shifting tastes and the availability of legal marijuana in some regions. These beer behemoths have so much money, however, the real question is why aren’t they buying up wine, liquor and weed ventures? Seems like that would be the move for these companies with deep pockets. Until Big Beer outlines exactly the ways in which they will help craft beer withstand this “outside threat,” it’s a non-starter. Pleas of unity after decades of divisive, monopolistic, and in many cases, underhanded business tactics, are falling on deaf ears.

 

Scotty surfing surf thorn brewing

Surfing & Beer with Scotty Kaplan

Here at Thorn Brewing, our people are just as important to our success as the quality of our beer. We take great pride in how we serve our customers, how we create the beers and also we get excited about our Tribe’s successes outside of the brewery.

The Fest

Coming up on May 12th, Scotty Kaplan, one of our founding brewers and OG bartenders is competing in the Shaper Festival of Surfing presented by Vans. The Shaper Surf Festival is a unique competition because all competitors are riding on boards that they shaped themselves. This is the 5th annual fest and promises to be the best one yet.

The Surfer

Recently, we caught up with Scotty behind the bar at Thorn North Park and got a chance to ask him some questions about how surfing and beer have shaped his life.

1. When did you start surfing?

I grew up in Long Island New York a few miles from the beach. I started bodyboarding when I was eight and in a short time, I was standing up on my bodyboard. When I was 13, I entered the North East bodyboarding regionals and got third place. After the contest one of the judges came up to me and said, “Great job kid, tell your dad to buy you a surfboard you are ready!” I conveyed the message to my dad and on the way home from the contest we stopped off at Bunger Surf Shop and I was able to pick out my very first surfboard, a used 7’6″ Bahne. From then on I was hooked.
Back then, I didn’t look at surfing as a competitive sport because it was more about camaraderie. Surfing in a NY winter in 37° water and 2 feet of snow on the ground required a certain mindset. If you found somebody as dedicated and as crazy as you, who was willing to endure the elements, you wanted to be friends with that person. When I was 16, I worked at a surf shop, Lido Surf, and Sport. The owners at the time wanted to push the young talent and the sport of surfing in NY. They organized a shop contest and I unwillingly entered and lost in the first round.
That would be the last surfing contest I entered until roughly 24 years later when in 2016 I get a text from my friend saying he entered me in the OB Surf Classic and he paid my entry. I didn’t really want to surf in the contest since I was more of a soul-surfer but I didn’t want to chicken out. For shits and giggles, I surfed in the contest and got second place. I was stoked!  I was determined to return the following year and win the 2017 Ob Surf Contest. I entered and won the 40+ longboard division. A month later, I entered the Shaper self-shape surf festival open longboard division. Luckily, I squeaked out another first place win. A couple of months later, I entered the Takayama Pro-am. I lost in the first round to one of my favorite surfers, Andy Nieblas. I was slightly bummed out but also determined to win at the pro level so I spent the last year of working on new moves, style, dialing in my equipment, and physical conditioning. Now, I’m 25 lbs leaner, 41 years old, and when most people have plateaued, I am progressing at the fastest rate in my life.

2. When and how did you start working at Thorn?

I started working at Thorn Street Brewery in December of 2012 when it first opened. I got hired on as one of two assistant brewers. After hard work and on-the-job training, I became the head brewer. I had homebrewed before working at Thorn, though. Inspired by Ale Smith’s Speedway Stout, I brewed my first homebrew batch in 2008. I don’t really homebrew anymore but I have been known to dust off my brewing-boots and brew a small batch at Thorn now an again.

3. Is Brother Scotty’s IIIPA your recipe?

Brother Scotty’s is not my recipe, exclusively. Just named after me in honor of the hard work and dedication to the craft. Also, Brother Scotty was the last beer that I brewed as the head brewer at Thorn Street Brewery. Now, I am the friendly face behind the bar so that I have more time to shape boards. Many of the beers at Thorn were created by a couple of brewers putting their heads together and trying to make the best beer possible. Two great minds are better than one.

4. When and why did you start shaping boards?

As a kid, I was inspired by a local shaper named Paolo Bianchinotti. I was his first team rider. I moved out to SD in 1999. A few years later, Paolo also moved to SD. Fortunately for myself, he took the time out of his day to show me some of the basic surfboard shaping skills. I shaped my first surfboard in a little shack I built on the side of my house in PB in 2002. Now that I reflect on that shape, The rails were asymmetrical, not by design, and the rocker was slightly off, but the board rode magically because I made it with my own hands.
 

5. Why is the Shaper Fest important to you?

The 2018 Self-shape surf contest is special to me because I was given the opportunity to surf a surfboard I handmade and a fin I designed against some of the world’s best surfing shapers.
I am bringing two boards to the contest this year. A 9-foot performance longboard which can be ridden as a tri-fin or a single fin and a 96 single fin spoon just in case the waves are small.

6. Are there any similarities to surfing and craft beer?

There are a few similarities between surfing, shaping boards, and brewing.
First, if you want to be good, you have to put the time, hard work, and determination.
You also have to be creative. Plus, after a good surf session, there is no better way to relax than watching the sunset and drinking a good beer.

7. What do you think the future holds for you and surfing?

Hopefully, I can do well in this surf contest and prove to the world that my surfboard designs work at the highest level. If somehow this year I fall short, I’ll be back next year even more determined with new moves and a more developed surfboard.

Join The Fun

This year’s Shaper Surf Fest is shaping up to be the best one yet! There will be food from Shake Shack and Hello Betty Fish House and live bands all day long, including:
  • JASON LEE & THE RIPTIDES
  • WELL WELL WELL
  • AUNT CYNTHIA’S CABIN
  • BIRD CONCERNS

Address: SEASIDE REEF | 2526 S. COAST HWY 101 | ENCINITAS, CA 92075

If you’re a fan of surfing, the Thorn Tribe, or just want a fun day at the beach, come on out to the Shaper Surf Festival on May 12th!