19 Dec 2013

Midweek musings


You might not remember it, but last year there was a rather unnecessary brouhaha in Spain when Damm, one of the country's biggest brewers, decided not to allow a couple of promotional events – sorry, craft beer tastings – to be held during the Festa Major de Gràcia. Back then, as expected, the craftophile tribe took sides with the victims, the businesses who, taking advantage of the Festa's popularity, had organised those tastings to enrich their coffers – sorry, the local beer culture – and accused the Catalonian macro of a number of things, when all they were guilty of, actually, was demanding that the organisers of the Festa abide to what had been agreed in the contract both parties had signed.

Fast forward to the end of 2013 and we find that very same kind of people who in a review, and the comments that followed it, harshly criticised the organisers of the I Feria de Cerveza de Navidad de Pozuelo for allowing the sale of Heineken at the bar where the event took place. And they had they even nerve of promoting it somehow! Can you believe that? Vade retro! Anathema to those blasphemous heretics! How dare they!

The thing went more or less like this: unlike most people, even the blog's authors, believed at first, the organiser and the owner of the premises where the festival took place are two different persons, with the former renting the space from the latter. According to the organiser's own words, they had agreed with the owner that he would sell only cañas, not pints, of the Dutch brand, and that he would not offer it together with food, either, which the owner failed to deliver (it'd the interesting to hear the owner's side of things, but there's no reason to doubt the organiser). This is in fact reather irrelevant, as nobody among the complainers where aware of this detail. What bothered them was the very fact that, at an event dedicated to one brand, the beer of another was being offered, which some went as far as to say it was a disrespect.

Disrespect? Gimme a break! To whom?

To the attendants? Nobody was forced to drink Heineken if they didn't want it. Those who went to Pozuelos to drink craft beer could drink all the craft beer their finances allowed, and, had they wanted to, could have even shown the finger to the Heineken's tap to feel cool with themselves. If anyone felt offended because they had to share a room with people who were drinking a beer they don't like, well, that person has some more serious issues to sort out.

To the producers that were there showing their wares? To be honest, if I had invested time, effort and money to be at the festival, I wouldn't have been very happy to see people walking in front of my stand holding a glass of Heineken. But let's be honest, does the content of that proverbial glass make any difference at the end of the day if the person holding it leaves without buying my beer?

That aside, though, the producers had here the chance not only to compete among themselves, but also to compete, basically on equal terms, with one of the best known brands in the world, which a favourite among Spanish drinkers, and show their stuff is better. There wasn't anyone from Heineken there, only the waiters touting one of the products that pay their wages, while the producers had the massive advantage of being there, with their products, so they could tell people what they do, how they do it and why. It'd be up to the consumer to decide, then.

And that is where the problem lies. The thing that bothered those people wasn't actually so much the fact that the place where the festival was held also sold a macro lager, as much as that there were people who bought it. Every pint of Heineken + tapa that someone bought and enjoyed was a blow to the craftoevangelist discourse; that already tiring bollocks that insists that people keep on drinking oligopolistic industrial crap only because they aren't given the chance to drink handcrafted masterpieces, if they did, it would only take a sip of one of those living, evolving wonders of the fine art of beermaking to make them never want to drink again any of those filtered, pasteurised adjunct and chemical laden concoctions the monolithic multinational corporations dare to pass for beer. And yet, there you had, people who, even with the alternative right under their noses, went for the usual. The could be accused of a lack of spirit of adventure, though at the same time, hardly anyone can be blamed for choosing the certainty of the good over the promise of the better.

Actually, the availability of macro beer wasn't the biggest problem of an event that, in retrospective was almost doomed to fail. A couple of the producers that were there presenting their beers commented complaining of more serious cock ups on the side of the organiser. It's obvious that the bloke wasn't up to the task and thought it might be unfair to accuse him of deliberate wrongdoing, his lack of experience in the organisation of events is not excuse for his mistakes.

On a side note, the author of the blog speaks about a couple of badly made beers he drank at the event. It's curious, it seems that those beers don't offend the sensibilities of the craftophile crowd as much as the presence of Heineken.

Anyway, maybe what the Spanish micro-beer scene needs right now is a few more fiascos like this.

Concerning festivals, it could help those who would like to organise an event of this sort to realise that it is no walk in the park, and that if they aren't able, skilled or resourceful enough to do it well, perhaps they shouldn't even try doing it.

To the producers, it could help them revise their strategies and seriously ask themselves if all the investment in time, effort and money really pays off or whether those resources couldn't be better spent some other way.

Bloggers also should take this as an opportunity for some much needed self-reflection over their role in all this. Beer is a hobby that we have taken a bit too seriously and we can often become victims of our own enthusiasm, which results in our being exploited by business interests who expect that we will provide them with free advertising and activism solely for the fact that they wear a certain label on the lapels. More cynicism is needed, we must realise once and for all that our interests aren't the same as those of the brewers, pub owners, retailers, distributors or event organisers – they want to make money, we have to spend it.

Na Zdraví!

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