14 March 2010

How Hard Should You Want What You Can't Get?

On one regional e-mail group recently, someone asked if there were a place where he could get a certain unobtainable-in-this-area beer, because, as he said, "I need to try this beer."  (Said beer was supposedly on one of those "BeerIsHolyAndMighty.com" website's Top Ten list or something.)

I responded, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, "No.  You WANT to try this beer.  Unless you're being paid to review or report on the beer, or people are holding your family hostage until you drink it, you don't need to drink any specific beer."  This, of course aroused a storm of unappreciative responses from the humor-impaired on the list.

Every good-beer bar and liquor store manager will tell you:  You can stock 1,520 different beers, and the beer aficionados STILL come in asking for #1,522, #1,649, and #1,737.   Why bother?  It's almost not worth the aggravation.

Think about this for now:

The entire controversy in Philadelphia with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and several beer bars came about, no matter what boneheaded overreactions the police and PLCB pulled, because a couple bars were pouring beers that weren't legally available in Pennsylvania--AND it was being openly discussed, if not promoted.

(One of the bars, Resurrection Ale House, was given a keg of  Brewer's Art Resurrection by said brewery as a sort of "housewarming present."  No money changed hands, but I was asked not to mention that fact, lest it get the place in trouble, and I did not.  The bar still got an official warning from the PLCB over that keg, apparently in part because other folks blabbed.)

They wouldn't have gotten the stuff (and violated the law, as specious as the law and bureaucracy may be) if they didn't have folks asking for the stuff, or willing to pay (probably dearly) for it.  And it's probable the customers knew darn well that they were getting beers that weren't officially approved for sale in the commonwealth.

Aren't we beer geeks making bar and liquor store managers' lives miserable enough without asking for the other galaxies when we already have the moon and the stars?  It's not like we're asking them to carry locally-made beer when all they have is industrially-produced lagers.  It's not the famous "Cheese Shop" sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus.  It's as if they're taking the trouble to stock extra-special herbed goat cheese, and we're asking what breed of goats gave the milk and which state the herbs grew in.

Yes, I love BrewDog's Tokio.  And I'm lucky that a plastic keg of the stuff made it over here for me to sample on draft, and that I can get a bottle or three if the spirit moves me.  But if I couldn't?  There are other beers out there.  LOTS of other good beers.  I'll live.  It's SOOOOOOOO much better than the day when Sam Adams was considered a "microbrewery."


Caederus said...

If the "Need" for a beer is truly a need then someone has a problem and an intervention needs to be had for the person. Having said that there are some unique or touchstone beers that I have or want to try just to have them as a reference for other beers.

To talk about Imperial (or Double) IPAs without having Pliny or 120 Min as a reference is missing part of the conversation. Have I had Pliny? No. Would I like to try some? Yes. Do I need it? No. Could I get some? Sure. It's really not that hard. Last Year I even had 2 bottles of New Glarus Belgian Red. It's a great beer and if someone takes a road trip to Wisconsin, I ask them to pick me up a couple of bottles. But If I never drink it again I'll be fine.

Right now there is only brewery that I really want to try, but haven't had a chance to, and that's the beers from Westvleteren. Not just the 12, the blond sounds amazing.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

"Sure. Have this old can of Molson Golden I was saving for Beer Can Chicken......"

Lew Bryson said...

Don't think you're right here, Sandy. First, the keg of Resurrection was way back in September (and as you said, they'd already received a warning from the PLCB about it). It wasn't asked for by the customers because it was for the opening of the bar.

The raid didn't come about "because a couple bars were pouring beers that weren't legally available in Pennsylvania," because it was one hell of a lot more than a couple bars. I'll give you a hint: up until this week, when a lot of beers suddenly appeared on the list, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, and Voodoo beers were not on the list, even though they were being sold across the city and the state. There are still bars serving beers that not only are not registered, but were not bought in the state, and it's openly discussed AND actively promoted. But they're not raided.

This is not about Pliny the Younger, as many have guessed. Both Pliny's are on the list, though the Younger wasn't last week. Russian River sells to PA, the only place in the east that they do, and while Pliny the Younger is very limited in supply, it's legal and official, not gray market. It's not even about the keg of Resurrection, which was apparently a one-time occurrence that the owners of the bar have admitted was a stupid thing to do. It's not about people asking for beers that aren't "legal" in the Commonwealth: the crowd at these three bars has never been that kind of crowd. There are bars in Philly like that; these aren't.

What this is about is someone -- a competitor or private citizen -- with a grudge against these owners, who managed to find a fulcrum to move their world. It has nothing to do with wanting beers you can't get. One of the beers confiscated was Duvel; another was Monk's Cafe Sour, both widely available. Pliny the Younger, one of the biggest "I gotta have this beer" names around, was not seized. Sorry, you're off on this one.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

Lew, yes, I'll agree with you on some of the points. But your comment seems to make it sound like the entire issue centers around the three bars in question allegedly having beers that were legal in the state, but that the inspectors couldn't find on their lists during the raid through their own incompetence.

Is anyone alleging that ALL the beers that Memphis Taproom, Local 44, and Resurrection had were perfectly legal and registered? Or that they were all properly applied for and had a $75 fee per brand paid for by the makers/distributors? I notice that no one from the bars is claiming as much--which makes me think that at least some of the stuff really didn't pass muster. (Okay,what was it--Consecration?)

Are we claiming that Paulaner, Voodoo, etc. never even registered their beers with the Commonwealth, or that the PLCB just didn't have them on their already-proven-useless master list? There IS a huge difference, a critical one, the same as a speeding car versus a broken radar gun, or a drug user versus a bag of pot planted in the car by the officer.

As much as the PLCB is proving itself to be a bunch of morons in need of dissolution or serious repercussions, I'm still willing to suspect that, on the other side, someone who should have known better still did something they shouldn't have. And I believe that the "demand" side, driven in part by hype and unruly passion, deserves to share at least some of the blame. It's not like we're sitting in bars where Yuengling is considered a craft beer among the Bud, Miller, and Coors, after all.

Lew Bryson said...

Sandy, the point is: according to the PA Liquor Code, it's not the bar's responsibility to register the beers, it's the brewer's (or their agent; importer). But the bar owner or the wholesaler is screwed if the BLCE finds unregistered beer in their possession, even though they can't legally register the beers themselves.

These three bars bought the beers from legit PA wholesalers, the state taxes were paid on the beer. Is the bar owner supposed to check every beer ordered against the brand registration list? Even when the PLCB's own website says that the list is not to be trusted? Some have suggested that every time a bar owner gets a shipment, they call the PLCB to check if every brand is registered. This isn't a "system," it's a farce.

No, not all the beers confiscated were on the list. But we don't know if PtY's absence was any more 'valid' than the absence of Paulaner or Hacker-Pschorr, we have no way of knowing. PtY IS on the list now; was it rushed through, or was it left off by accident? See, we don't know. Matt Allyn at Voodoo claimed to have the canceled check for his registration, and his beers still aren't on the list.

Every beer has to be re-registered (and another $75 paid) every year. Does everyone know this? No, not even bar owners. Everyone's getting a real fast education about it.

This is not being driven by hype and demand. 16 sixtels of PtY came to PA, legally, normally. We get Russian River beers all the time. It's that kind of market.

However, as I said in my previous comment, there are bars who are bending the rules to get beers in...and they didn't get raided.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

While I'm trying to avoid turning all these comments into a back-and-forth argument, I'm forced to ask:

The implication of your statements thus far seem to say that the bars in question bought and were sold the beers in question with the implicit understanding that they had been approved for sale by the PLCB. The PLCB raiders disagreed.

This leads to several possibilities:
*The beers were approved but not listed (apparently what happened with Paulaner, Voodoo, etc.) or listed incorrectly (Duvel);
*The bars bought beers that had not yet been approved but thought were legal (blame the distributors for that);
*The bars bought beers that weren't approved, and both distributor and/or bar thought they could skirt the law or not attract PLCB attention;
*The bars sold "bootlegged" product they brought themselves or had someone ship/bring from elsewhere (in other words, they broke the law).

If it were the first or second problem, I think the players in question would have come public with the buck-passing. NO ONE I have heard thus far is saying that EVERY beer was legal or thought to be legal. So, reading between the lines, I'm assuming that the bar owners still had beers they weren't supposed to and knew it. Or they're withholding comment for the time being on the advice of legal counsel.

Believe me, the PLCB is still a bunch of morons that have to clean up their act or be abolished. But don't, in the wake of your zeal to attack the PLCB, completely excuse the bars or distributors until you have evidence that they did everything that they were supposed to, and all was on the up-and-up. Knowing what I do about the booze and bar business, that's highly unlikely, and the fact that we have not heard allegations to that effect from the major players bears noting.