I like it when I see criticism. I see it as something positive and necessary in the beer discourse, I'd even go as far as to say that it's key if we expect to get the respect we deserve as consumers. However, in order to serve that purpose, criticism, even more than praise, must be well argued and informed, and, above all, it must be fair and clear. And that's why I believe that the other day, Jardín del Lúpulo had a bit of a cock-up in their criticism of a beer festival they attended.
On the one hand, they mentioned a few shortcomings, a couple of which turned out to be not such. And on the other, they made what in my opinion is the grave error of putting everyone in the same sack when they said that at the festival they had found:
duff kegs that were not changed when pointed out, beers that were sold even though they needed another month of aging, beers that had not met the expectation of the producers themselves, infected beers, “experimental” beers...Later, the author also mentions that they had come across some good stuff, but the damage had already been done. If you are going to make such hard criticism after being specific on the event, you are unnecessarily hurting all the breweries that were there and perverting the very debate you want to start. Perhaps the author could have refrained from mentioning any specific event as an example, after all, the post was meant to trigger discussion and not so much as a review.
But regardless of that, there is a complaint, from the author, as well as from several other commenters, which is in fact almost perennial when discussing beer festivals “beers that the producers themselves sell at higher prices than at stores”.
Is there anyone who can give me a reasonable explanation of what the problem is? Because, frankly, I don't see anything reproachable here.
At events of this type, a producer can't take advantage or abuse a condition of exclusivity to set prices that could be considered abusive, as it can happen, for instance at concerts. Here the consumer has plenty to choose from and the prices are another one of the variables.
So, what's the problem? That the producer has set a higher profit margin than what they usually get when selling to retailers?
Assuming for a second that that is a fact; that, even after factoring all the other costs specific to their participation in a festival, producers still earn more for every beer than they earn selling it to a shop or bar, since when is it wrong that a producer wants to earn a bit more, especially since we are speaking about an environment where competition couldn't be any freer?
So, what's the problem? That you went to that event to taste that beer and you found it more expensive than at a shop?
Let's forget for a second that A: if you can find that beer cheaper elsewhere, you are free to buy it there and B: that bottled beer isn't the same as draft beer. If you considered that the chance to drink one or several specific beers was good enough reason to invest the time and money necessary to attend a given festival, then a few coins more in the price shouldn't make any difference (needless to say, we're speaking here about beers that are at least well made. Beers that aren't well made will be expensive, regardless of their price).
So, what's the problem? That producers refuse to understand that festivals are an opportunity to promote their companies?
Let's be serious. We, the consumers, have the right to demand from producers quality and value, but not to dictate how they should manage their companies or determine their strategies. If a producer sees festivals mostly as a good source of turnover, it's their choice, they know why they do it, and if they don't, the risks and eventual problems are purely theirs.
That said, and to be honest, if I were a producer I'd take festivals mostly as a chance to promote my products and brand, as I see it as very reasonable. However, and since I'm not a producer, I can't avoid wondering if these events are any effective as promotional tools.
At first sight, the answer would be yes. The public that attend festivals tends to be of a much wider spectrum that those who go to specialised shops or bars. However, the sad truth is that the attention span of the general public is not particularly long and, therefore, it's quite likely that, unless they can come across the beers soon, many, if not most, won't take long to forget what they drank that Saturday at that festival; and still fewer are those who will run a day later to their favourite pub to urge the owner to start stocking that beer they liked so much at that festival.
So, if a producer wants to get a return for their investment of time, work and money, counting on the memory of the people who bought beers from them isn't enough. For that, a festival would need to be a medium where producers can get in touch with retailers, pub owners or distributors, i.e. those that do the heaviest part of the work of convincing the consumer.
Festivals do become useful for producers if we speak about PR, as well as exchange of information and experiences with their peers (and competitors). Whether that is good enough reason for a producer to set “promotional” prices is another thing.
On the other hand, could it be that these events are very effective when it comes to promoting the brand “Craft Beer” and not so much for individual brands? I'd like to hear about the experiences producers have with all this. I'm just speculating and thinking out loud.
Regardless of all this, and even if festivals happened to be perfect marketing tools, this should not be seen as a limit to the right of producers to set any price they see fit for the fruit of their labour. Nobody is under any obligation to buy a beer they consider too expensive, and anyone who might believe so, should perhaps start reviewing their priorities in life.