A Falling Out Between Falling Rock & Oskar Blues
(Denver,CO) – There are different levels of ethics being shown across the ever evolving craft beer industry. The Full Pint is guilty of having a stance on not covering non-craft beer, based solely on what the Brewers Association deems craft and not craft. Some people are appalled by the inclusion of breweries such as Boston Beer Company and Yuengling being deemed craft, as their beer and sales practices are viewed by some as counter to the independent craft beer movement.
The latest debate, as mentioned here at The Full Pint is how to view breweries that have taken to private equity firms for funding and expansion. In the crosshairs of those down on the private equity model lies Fireman’s Capital, better known to you as Oskar Blues Holding, LLC, the parent company of Oskar Blues Brewery. If you are wondering my stance on Oskar Blues, I am happily hanging on to the Brewers Association’s definition of Oskar Blues being a craft brewery, as I have been a fan boy of their working man’s style, economical pricing and highly drinkable offerings. However, even as a fan boy, I have taken notice of their rapid ascension into all 50 US states and have hoped all stays kosher.
So while I don’t have skin in the game as to what kind of moves OB is making in the retail space, I couldn’t help but notice that a very vocal, highly regarded member of the old guard in craft beer made some significant noise this past Friday evening in response to Oskar Blues setting up an establishment in Denver. Owner of the insanely famous Falling Rock Tap House Chris Black took to Facebook and put Oskar Blues founder and Dale’s Pale Ale namesake Dale Katechis on blast. While it seems Chris is upset with many recent business decisions OB has been making, he is most upset that Oskar Blues Brewery is opening up a destination pub featuring guest taps in addition to Oskar Blues lineup. My take away is that Mr. Black views this as a brewery that he is soured on that is now entering into the craft beer bar space, acting as direct competition.
Rightfully so, Oskar Blues did not comment on this, here was the publicly printed note from Chris himself.
An open letter to Dale Katechis & Oskar Blues Brewing:
OK, I guess I should elaborate on that even though if I just left it at that, you’d know what I was saying & why I was saying it. But since this is not the first time these subjects have come up in the industry, I’m just going to rip off the band-aid, say it out loud & let people know about the issues. First off, to brewers (whether Brewpub or Production), I fully support a Brewers right to a Tap Room. I think it is a vital part of building your brewery & its brand. Another vital part of your business if you have aspirations of growth outside your brewery’s building are Tap Handles & Bottles/Cans in the marketplace.
As the industry has evolved & grown, various breweries have come up with differing methods of financing their growth. Whether by taking on increasing amounts of traditional debt (& the perils that entails), Selling out to the Industrobrewers, Selling out to another Brewer, going public, employee ownership, or allowing Private Equity investment, choices abound. Which way is best, which way(s) is/are still “Craft”? Well we DEFINITELY know one choice, selling to the Industrobrewers, isn’t Craft. If you choose that route, congratulations on being successful, but don’t give me the “nothing’s changed” crap, yes it has, you knew it before hand, no one changed the rules mid-stream. Deal with it. The other ways in the list, I think we have to play a wait-and-see game. I think actions speak louder than Press Releases, it’s pretty much the only method we have at looking under the tent of the new entity.
In your case, some of your Brewery’s recent actions point towards a brewery that I feel ISN’T Craft & therefore I wish to have nothing to do with. In the Craft Beer Industry, it’s either you are WITH it, or you are AGAINST it, there really is no in-between. Starting this year, you have left the Colorado Brewers Guild. This leaves a large hole in the budget of an organization that has helped & fought for your ability to get to where you are today. You don’t belong to the North Carolina Brewers Guild, you informed the Texas Brewers Guild you won’t be joining their organization (the latter was the subject of a recent Austin Chronicle article). I wonder what will happen in Florida. I hear you saying it’s “Craft Buying Craft”. I’d be willing to suspend my disbelief if it weren’t for your actions. That’s not Craft. Yes, I know that not every brewery belongs to the Local and National Trade Organizations, just the ones that care about progressing the industry, want to protect it from the Industrobrewers, & want to be able to protect the small brewer’s access to market.
Another action is your announced Music Venue/Beer Hall in Downtown Denver. With 43 taps. Seriously? 4 years (almost to the day) ago you announced a “letter of intent” on a building in Boulder to open up another Home Made Liquids & Solids. We had an emotional (& very civil) discussion about my opinion on this subject`. When you want to sell your own products, I am a huge supporter, when your primary goal is to sell other people’s beers, I’m not so much in favor. That’s kinda the job for the accounts out in the marketplace. As you might have noticed, there are over 4300 breweries in the US, 300+ in Colorado alone, I have LOTS of choices, & I choose to spend my money on beers brewed by brewers that don’t actively & directly compete with me. Oh, I understand it’s ‘legal’ for you to carry other people’s beers, that doesn’t make it right, or the right thing to do for your brand. You seem to want to be considered a Brewpub when it suits you, and a Brewery when see an advantage in that. Funny, I was always under the impression that there were laws against that here in Colorado (laws designed to keep things from being taken over by the Industrobrewers), but I must be mistaken.
Your actions shout.
Have a terrific life driving your warehouse full of exotic cars.
I was your first account outside of your immediate area of Lyons. I’ve been a loyal supporter & account ever since. I feel like such a sucker.
Falling Rock Tap House
June 4, 2016 @ 7:38 am
Thank you for bringing this to my attention, as a long time fan of Oskar Blues I too have been wrestling with the recent changes. This is displayed in my youtube video on take overs as well as my recent blog post covering True Craft™ (scoff).
The adoration I have for these companies is based on so many things Beyond the quality of beer and the ethics of it’s business but also the intention. Chris Black mentions in his letter that the scene for beer and brewing is changing. The words used to describe beer, be it craft, true, indie or otherwise are getting more and more attention.
Fans me and your readers at The Full Pint are at the point where we get to have discussions and debates not unlike the music world. When is a brewery a sell out? What happens if I like the manufactured mainstream beer? How do we define one style from another, and which one is cooler?
My assumption is that the market will slip from being influenced by die hard fans as beer continues to enter the mainstream market as a factor of self expression. For me, education and respect are important.
Oskar Blues, I love em too, you have a right to continue purchasing their beer, but I’m pumping the breaks on companies that have cross hairs on national (international) expansion. That is the practice that got us into this fucked up stagnated situation to begin with.
Buy local, buy good, buy on tap.
Love to hear more on this topic, cuz I’m a beer geek.