The morality play needs better actors.
In the ongoing—and sometimes exhausting—rhetorical battle between corporate breweries and craft, an expat from Georgia, now brewing in Ireland, took to Facebook yesterday in a very public accusation about a perceived hypocrisy by Creature Comforts Brewery for their recent decision to collaborate with Guinness on an 8-barrel batch of beer at the historic St. James facility.
The brewer in question is Will Avery, head brewer for Galway Bay Brewery based in Ireland, and he claims he’s had a front-row seat to the damaging market practices of Guinness and, more specifically, its parent company, Diageo. Following on the heels of Creature Comforts CEO Chris Herron penning a GBH op-ed about the potential for breweries acquired by AB InBev to lower the price for craft in the U.S., Avery referred the the Guinness and Creature Comforts collaboration as “hypocrisy.” Guinness also recently collaborated with Two Roads Brewing Co. in Connecticut.
It's worth noting that Avery first submitted the screed to GBH for consideration as an op-ed, which we politely declined, citing a lack of facts and useful insight for our readers. In choosing instead to make it public on Facebook, the thread has now taken on a life of its own, and if not entirely newsworthy, it's perhaps, at least, a cautionary tale.
Avery writes: “As a craft brewer in Ireland it's disappointing to see our US peers assisting the macro brewers of Ireland position themselves as craft brewers in their own right. St. James' Gate is the headquarters for Diageo Ireland and the production plant for brands such as Budweiser, Carlsberg, Tuborg, Smithwicks and of late - a series of cheap 'craft' offerings from their project 'Open Gate Brewery' - a series designed to position macro produced beer on shelves among the craft section of your local supermarket at a highly discounted bundle offering.”
Given the timing of the collaboration following so closely behind the Creature op-ed, Avery also wrote: “At the end of the day that’s pretty much the definition of hypocrisy.” Herron himself entered the thread soon after and calmly tried to hear Avery out and explain the broader context, which took some doing amidst the clamor.
What came to light in the extensive and emotional Facebook thread that Avery intentionally made public—even encouraging viewers to “feel free to share"—was that Avery’s own brewery, which owns a network of pubs in Ireland, also serves Guinness, in addition to the Hop House Lager made at St. James Gate—they're even served in branded, proper glassware. It's unclear if the Guinness presence at the bars associated with Avery's employer are the result of the unsavory commercial practices he decries, or if they just like the stuff.
This revelation turned the fiery tone of conversation entirely on its head, and Avery started to backtrack and reflect on his original intent. “I do apologize. I didn't mean to come off personal.”
He also conceded: “I do agree we should learn from the big guys. I'd love to tour the Guinness facility in Dublin as I'm sure I could learn a lot from it…”
We've also received reports that comments people have posted in disagreement with Avery have been hidden or deleted, even as he expresses regret and feigns to be interested in the "debate" and "dialog" that his screed has supposedly initiated.
In response to one of Avery's most direct accusations, Herron offered clarity with regards to his op-ed, and how he separates business concerns from personal ones:
“If AB wants to invite me to their brewery to learn some stuff I would say yes. In fact our entire Craft Brewers Guild in GA took a trip to their Cartersville brewery about two years ago and it was pretty awesome of them to show us around and invite us in, and we spent a good day talking to each other about all kinds of stuff in the industry. They were really smart and had a lot to share particularly around the importance of raw material specs. Certainly there are things that they would not share with us, and we would be the same way. You are right we would not create a product for them to take to market as a competitor to our brand (which I did not feel like we are doing here, but perhaps we weren't looking at it through the same lens). I think maybe there is a misread of my article, in that I don't think they are evil, or that we should avoid contact at all costs and not be willing to learn from them. My article was about selling your entire brewery to them, and I am honestly not saying people shouldn't do that. It might be the right thing for others, and I don't pretend to be able to put myself in their shoes, and I am not here to judge anyone. My article was not about whether people should or shouldn't, simply what I think could be the reason ABI is buying craft, and why when they buy someone, it sucks from a business standpoint. I am not upset with the Wicked Weed guys at all, it sucks because I know we won't share as openly with each other in the same way, which is the point of collaborator vs competitor. But that doesn't mean I won't talk to them anymore, or be friendly, or visit their brewery if in Asheville to see what they have going on and how they are doing it.“
After sleeping on it, Avery had an apparent change of heart.
“First of all, I'd like to personally apologize to Chris Herron. What started as a healthy debate may have turned a bit personal from me. That was certainly not my intention, but it happened... It was never my intention to create bad press, because at the end of the day craft has to play on the same team in order to win against the bigger guys.”
Avery has left the entirety of the post public, and comments continue to roll in, mostly in response to his initial, angry context. Meanwhile, the nuanced and patient responses from Herron are increasingly buried in the reply threads.