Of Bottles and Big Sticks


Warning: This may be my second fairly libertarian themed post in a row. I’m not certain that two posts, nearly six months apart really count as a row, but there you go. Right, so for the three of you still reading, I’ll get down to brass tacks.

There have been a raft of releases of, I don’t really know what to call them, cash-in beers maybe? I don’t like faux-craft, or craft-lite, or the other various terms which imply “less than craft quality”. The reason for my dislike is that nobody has managed to satisfactorily define what constitutes craft anyway, so until that can be done, I think it’s unfair and unreasonable to denigrate something for not meeting an undefined standard.

Anyway, let’s just say that the large players have (finally) woken up and realised that the ever increasing chunk of the market that likes artisinal, flavourful, interesting products is growing while the more traditional market is, at best, standing fairly still, and more often, declining. It’s something that I believe they’ve written off as irrelevant for a long time, and they are now realising that they need to be a part of it. To do that, they need to understand it. Now, I’m not sure I believe there’s an it to be understood, but that’s the subject of a different blog post. I might get around to writing it sometime in 2015, if my current schedule maintains itself.

Anyway, what we have now is the first real incursion of the big players into the “new frontier” of craft beer. There are various strategies at play, and they’ve all been discussed to death elsewhere. This post isn’t about that. It’s about the ugly side of the craft beer community. There are those who probably thought I was the ugly side of the craft beer community, but I’m speaking more of ethical and emotional ugliness. The ugliness of one who, when confronted by something he doesn’t like or approve of, and sensing that he may have numbers on his side, immediately repairs to force to fix his problem. “Come on guys, let’s beat up the new kid! He talks funny, and he’s different to us!”

Now, of course, I’m not implying that craft beer people are the types to literally go out and form a torch wielding mob. No, they’re all nice people. Well, every one I’ve ever met, and that’s a fair few! The force they propose is the institutionalised (and therefore perfectly OK, in their minds) force of government/legislative compulsion. Instead of letting the quality (or lack thereof) of a product speak for itself, and succeed or fail on those terms, the well meaning and otherwise perfectly lovely craft beer afficionado suddenly transforms into a thug. “You’re not allowed to say Imperial Pint on the bottle! Get them!”, “That’s not really an IPA! Get them!”, “That brewery isn’t even a real brewery, let alone established in 1859! Get them!”

Of course, many of these claims are true, and the marketing in question is often at best, a little misleading, and at worst, outright fraudulent. In those cases, yes, fraud is a crime, and those perpetrating it should be held accountable. That doesn’t change how damned ugly it is to watch the gleeful screams of these otherwise wonderful people as they sense a kill and descend upon the different kid, torches blazing and eyes alight with righteousness.

I strongly believe force is only ever OK in self defence, and it’s the one rightful job of a government to hold a monopoly on the use of force in order to protect each citizen’s rights to do as they please, so long as those rights don’t impose on others equal rights, via force or fraud. I’m not here to defend these beers, or the breweries which create them. In several cases, I find the products are awful and the marketing dishonest and shameful. I’m trying to say that if it’s not hurting you, consider pointing out why it’s bad – discussion and persuasion are civilised tools for encouraging others to drink beers you consider craft and avoid beers you don’t. In other words, try anything but pulling out the club of legislation and attacking the new kid, however annoying he may appear. The law is, and should ALWAYS be, a shield, not a club.


17 thoughts on “Of Bottles and Big Sticks

  • Dominic Kelly

    Greig, that’s one colossal straw man you’ve built. Can you please link to an example of someone proposing the use of “force” to rein in the manufacturers of faux-craft? (Apart maybe from me on the grounds of their anti-competitive practices, which is a distinct issue.)

    I think the weapon of choice for most of us (whoever we are) in this issue is not the law but uncompromising, belligerent, remitting, tooth-and-claw mockery of the pedlars of mediocrity. Oh and better information. Is that ok with you?

    Dominic

  • greig Post author

    I don’t think it’s a strawman at all Dom. You only need to read comments around the blogs, or witness the twitter debate I had last night which sparked this post. People are always attempting to use legislation as a club to beat down things they don’t like, and it’s always ugly. Maybe you’ve just not noticed? Maybe it just grates on me more than it does on you?

    Anyway, that said, I absolutely agree with you. Mockery/satire/whatever is a tool of debate, and more information is ALWAYS good.

    Anti-compitive practices are an entirely different debate, and one we’d probably be on opposite sides of.

  • Craig Box

    I’ve got a friend from the “new frontier”
    And Galen, she says, this is not America
    You need a girl with electrical hair
    and the word that you wanted is aluminium

  • Craig Box

    Shouldn’t use “scare quotes” then!

    I listened to that album for the first time in many years a couple of days ago. No word of a lie, it is what instantly came to mind!

    (It’s also one of only two songs I can think of that contain both the words ‘aluminum’ and ‘aluminium’. Seems 2002 was the year for it.)

  • Phil Cook

    I honestly don’t see how contemplating Fair Trading or Consumer Guarantee type action against Lion / Stoke / D.B. / etc. for this kind of shit wouldn’t count as “self defence”, in this sense. They moved first, with a blatant distortion. (And it’s a bit weird to cast this in “force” terms, anyway, given the actual subject at hand.)

    How the hell did fair dealing get abandoned by Libertarianism? (Or your version thereof, at least.) This is a truth in labelling issue. It’s not rocket science, it’s not a lynchmob, it’s not trying to enforce mere preferences, and it’s not creeping Communism or anything else scary.

    If D.B. can market Tui as an IPA, without me being able to complain — should I expect to be able to pay my debts in Monopoly Money and get away with it? Consumer law is incredibly basic and obvious regulation, and regulation isn’t always bad. If you think that people should be left to their own devices in the face of huge disparities in bargaining position and access to information, you’ve got a horribly brutal view of economics.

    Minor extra points along the way: 1) these brands aren’t “the new kid”, so it’s disingenuous to use a term like that to give them underdog status, and 2) “craft” might be hard to define, but that’s beside the point, because a) whatever craft is, we can have a good idea about what it isn’t, and b) these breweries offer distortions that have nothing to do with the definition of craft.

  • greig Post author

    I honestly don’t see how contemplating Fair Trading or Consumer Guarantee type action against Lion / Stoke / D.B. / etc. for this kind of shit wouldn’t count as “self defence”

    Perhaps the self bit? They’re not attacking anyone. If they were doing so, let the victim defend themself, and ask for our help if need be.

    And it’s a bit weird to cast this in “force” terms, anyway, given the actual subject at hand.

    Don’t tell me you’ve not seen (and participated in) the gleeful rubbing of hands while contemplating those big bad breweries going down? THAT is the bit I’m talking about – that mob mentality. I saw far too much of it from otherwise nice people during the Radler issue. People unable to separate the issue of a company doing something it shouldn’t really do, and attempting to stop it (I have no problem with that) with the attitude of “won’t be happy until they’re out of business” which so many of the participants expressed. It sickens me. The force follows on from that attitude.

    it’s not creeping Communism or anything else scary.

    Sorry, what? Jeez, and Dom was saying I was erecting a strawman! :P

    Yes, there IS a truth in labelling issue. There’s a reason I didn’t cite examples in the post, even that one example that sparked me to write this. It’s because even when we have the law on our side the glee taken in using the big bat of legislation is not something I like seeing. I wanted to identify the principle, not the specifics. People don’t generally do this to craft breweries, who are often just as guilty. Just last night, we’d been claiming our Punkin Image Ltd was the first Pumpkin Ale in NZ, with Ad Lib’s a close second, and were annoyed at Renaissance claiming they were. Then we found out Mussel Inn beat us to it. Note lack of legal threats and abuse? And this goes on all the time amongst craft breweries. There’s no mobs or witch hunts. I express distaste at what friends of mine are saying and how they’re saying it, and you decide I’m worried about communism? Thanks Phil. :(

    If you think that people should be left to their own devices in the face of huge disparities in bargaining position and access to information, you’ve got a horribly brutal view of economics.

    I do. So perhaps I have.

    As for your minor points, point one is a fair cop. I actually considered changing the example as I wrote it. I left it in because it evokes bullying, which is what I was getting at. Again, principles, not specifics, but yes. I do see your point, but I hope you see mine.

    I reject your second point. This debate is all about craft, and no, we can’t all agree on what it is OR what it isn’t. You and I don’t agree whether some of the Boundary Road beers are craft or not. If we don’t, you think I’m the only one who disagrees with you on the point?

  • Simon

    My issue isn’t whether the craftwashing is a little misleading or a lot misleading, it’s that it is deliberately misleading to give an impression the companies involved know is not true. On your political graph our positions are opposites on the left/right scale, but the same on the libertarian/authoritarian scale. I’m about freedom for people, not for companies to distort the market by providing misinformation to consumers who are trying make as rational a choice as possible. If Lion et al want to make their millions that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be by polluting the market they would claim to be supporters of. Everyone deserves freedom from being bullshitted.

  • greig Post author

    Hey Simon. Yeah, I really REALLY don’t like “Right/Left”. They both have such crappy connotations. Still, it’s just a graph. :)

    I believe everyone is free, and freedom’s limit is the point where you impose force or an obligation on someone else. In other words, if you think, say, DB are forcing people to drink their beer, then I’d be on your side of any debate in a shot (provided you could prove it). If you think they are lying in order to coerce people to drink (which is, I believe, what Phil is arguing above when he speaks of truth in advertising), then again, provided you could prove that, I’d consider it fraud and be on your side.

    But, for possibly the fourth or fifth time now, that’s NOT what this post is about.

  • Simon

    Fair enough… I guess that with my world view I can’t characterise people pointing out that the big players, who have the resources to produce great beer but often seem to lack the will, are using their reach into popular culture to muddy the waters around the idea of quality as being a violent mob – rather I see them as passionate consumers with a more valid opinion on quality beer than the majors (and by quality I mean a quality experience, rather than their beer meeting spec or something like that).

    I would shudder to think that there are people out there that decide to branch out from their usual Export Gold and try a craft beer getting one of the faux-craft beers and think it is somehow representative of the craft beer scene that has grown on the backs of beer nerds churning out great beers in their backyard shed, putting in personal effort every step of the way to try and bring their beer to the masses without the help of corporate funding. I consider the terrible faux-craft beers in the market purely because of the financial strength of their creators as insulting to people like yourself who produce great beers and can not possibly compete, despite your product being light years ahead in terms of flavour/uniqueness/being interesting. I should probably also point that I acknowledge not all faux-craft beers are terrible, but when they get judged against craft beers based solely on the beer (such as the brewers guild awards) they just can’t compete.

    I’m more than happy to let anyone that cares to listen know this… tho, I’m also happy for people to characterise me as an ugly (as we’ve met, you can probably verify this as true ;) ) mob. One of the great things about being a libertarian is that I don’t really care if people don’t like my opinion, as long as they don’t tell me that I can’t have it :)

  • greig Post author

    Spot on I think Simon. I agree with everything you just wrote, especially the bit where you said we make great beer! ;) That said, it’s reminded me I should really rename this blog. It predates “Brewaucracy – the brewery”, and is just my opinion. As Brewaucracy is really myself and Phil, I don’t want this to imply I’m speaking for him. Though I am. And the bitch will like it. ;)

    I love passion. I’m loving Joe’s current mockery of the “established” thing on facebook. I don’t consider any of that mob-like as nobody is going “crying to teacher”. Many debates elsewhere have not seemed so civilised, and way too much glee gets taken in “sticking the boot in” to the big boys.

  • Phil Cook

    The Creeping Communism line was just a stab at a rhetorical flourish on the end of that list; I know you’re not actually running around accusing people of being part of a Red Menace.

    And I guess the hyper-individualism you espouse is where I got off the Libertarian train, after a brief period of identifying as such, years ago. I think the world’s a poorer place with such strict definitions of self-interest, such narrow conceptions of harm, and if we just let companies (or individuals) profit from deception and bastardry so long as they’re clever enough to pick the right victims. No thanks.

  • greig Post author

    That’s not really what I’m espousing, but it’s a little too complex to go into here.

    I’m all for voluntary collectivism, so long as no collective (including companies) can ever trample the rights of any individual. I don’t see this leading to what you just described.

    I just don’t agree that people have a right NOT to be fooled by marketing. I do agree with you that blatantly false marketing is fraud though, so we can agree on something! :)

  • Phil Cook

    I think there’s a good case to be made for individuals possessing a right not to be lied to by companies. Corporations are creations of statue, granted extraordinary powers (like limited liability), on certain conditions, because an economy with companies in it is more useful to everyone than one without. It’s a rarely explicit instance of the usually-implied Social Contract.

    In my view, one of the conditions of that deal is that you’re not allowed to lie in the course of trade. And I’d strengthen that, so I can more-easily include individuals among the people burdened by that obligation, by saying that it’s also part of the bargain the existence of public courts is all about: we’ll help you enforce your contracts, if you don’t go around trying to screw people in the course of your business.

    I really don’t think there’s anything in that that should freak out a Libertarian of any kind. And once you zoom out just a little from hyper-individualism and look at the social bargains behind all this stuff, worrying about waiting until an actual “victim” complains — rather than someone like me just wanting to file about a deception when I wasn’t personally deceived — just falls away entirely.

    Your “let the victim defend itself” stance just seems pointlessly narrow — and frankly a little mean. Would we really do that, in general? Would we really rely on victims of badly-labelled pharmaceuticals to be able to test their purchases enough to know if they had something to complain about? Why isn’t it okay for someone to stand up for basic matters of accuracy and fair dealing, for the common good and not just their own?

    (And yes, I’ve strayed way out of the beer industry and into general political philosophy, so this is probably better had-out over a beer. It’s just a fascinating little hardly-any-real-harm-involved case that’s quite enlightening, I thought. Cheers for the clarifying disagreement!)

  • Jared

    “the marketing in question is often at best, a little misleading, and at worst, outright fraudulent.”

    Pretty hard to defend fraudsters isn’t it? Surely even in a libertarian utopia fraud should be illegal.

  • greig Post author

    As I agree with you that we’re getting too far into philosophy, I’ll try to keep this short, but we must sit down over a beer sometime, as you seem to be making drastic assumptions about what I do and don’t believe, and it will take a lot of ironing out. It’s just easier in person.

    The first thing that really needs correcting though is this weird caricaturist view of libertarians that we all believe classical liberal politics will bring about any kind of utopia. I’ve never met anybody who believes that. No matter what you do, there will always be bad people, people who can’t care for themselves, and people who only care about themselves. Libertarians simply recognise that throwing regulation at problems has a really shitty track record of solving anything. Henry George might have had some very odd views on property rights, but he did make a lot of sense when he said “It is not the business of government to make men virtuous or religious, or to preserve the fool from the consequences of his own folly. Government should be repressive no further than is necessary to secure liberty by protecting the equal rights of each from aggression on the part of others, and the moment governmental prohibitions extend beyond this line they are in danger of defeating the very ends they are intended to serve.”

    Freedom includes the freedom to make poor and even injurious choices. As you pointed out, if it was fraud which led to those choices, the law should punish those who committed it. This works well, so long as there is good tort law to support it. If not, you get ridiculous litigation like the old standby example of McDonalds having to warn people their coffee is hot.

    I don’t think you understood my “let the victim defend themself” comment. You seem to have taken it out of context. It’s not meant in the sense of denying basic humanity. This is another common caricature painted of libertarians – that egoism/rational self interest means that we only care about ourselves, and would never help others voluntarily. That’s not true at all. Empathy is built in to humanity. We can’t help but care about others. Libertarians simply state that while it’s natural to care about others and want to help them, others have no claim on you by the mere fact of their existence, and so it’s not right to force any individual to help another. The way you paint libertarian thought reminds me of the way christians paint athiests – immoral and evil, as if all morality must come from god. I am simply saying that we are moral animals, and those morals derive from the fact of our existence, and the recognition that others have an equal right to that existence under equal terms. If you want to help someone, do so voluntarily and out of genuine compassion. Don’t attempt to force help from others using the law as a club. Which is where I came in… ;)

    So yes, it absolutely IS ok for someone to stand up for matters of accuracy and labelling. Not once have I disagreed with you on that matter. I find it just as laughable and wrong as you do. My point has never been about that. It’s been about the gleeful and ugly reaction of people taking such delight in using the law rather than satire, discussion, and general reason to fix the perceived problem. For myself, I’d repair to the law as a last resort to prevent injustice, and do so with a heavy heart that it came to that.

    Now, about that beer. Don’t you need a slaes trip to Hamilton? ;)

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