The Great Beau’s Kerfuffle of 2011 3

Let me explain something about the way the news cycle works in the beer world. It’s a lot like the way the news cycle works on major cable networks. Stories tend to come out early in the week. Mondays and Tuesday s tend to be flush with press releases, and this is a good thing for beer writers because you usually end up having a column that’s published later in the week for the reason that people just don’t seem to want to think about beer on a Monday.

Well, some people do, but most of those cats are a little weird.

I tend to file columns for Sun Media on Wednesday or Thursday, which means that if something interesting happens after my filing deadline, it’s probably not going to make it into the paper at all. Usually, people like Josh Rubin at the Star will have covered it on the day. Since Josh is pretty thorough, this means that whatever that topic is tends to get relegated to my blog because it would seem like an irrelevance by the time it made into the next week’s paper.

Also, my column’s mandate is, theoretically, to have a national focus, which means that sometimes stories that effect a very small geographic area, even within my bailiwick, just don’t make it. It’s for this reason that I didn’t write about Beau’s delivery program this week. I researched it and found that even though the story contained the kind of general feel-goodery that you get from charitable donations and beer, it was too small an area. The delivery zone is parts of Ottawa, and while that’s neat, it’s hard to justify when you’re looking at a short list of “K1” postal codes.

Of course, the story got a buttload bigger because this is Ontario and nothing is ever simple. It will probably continue to spiral over the next week. Mom called earlier and I was going to explain the thing to her, but she had already heard about it on the CBC on the drive home. Some people have the AP wire; I have a beer nerd mom.

Beau’s works periodically with a charitable organization called Operation Come Home, which works with underprivileged youth. They’ve been around for 41 years, so this is not some fly by night charity. Until now, Operation Come Home has operated a service whereby they collected empty bottles from people. The Buy Your Beau’s Online website is currently redirected, so I’m going from memory here. I believe the idea was that you were donating the deposit from the bottles to Operation Come Home and you got a tax receipt for charitable donation. This is much better than slogging boxes of empties to the beer store yourself, since you get a nice tax write off and underprivileged youth get services they wouldn’t get otherwise.

At some point Beau’s and Operation Come Home decided that it would probably be a good idea for Operation Come Home to operate a delivery service for Beau’s within Ottawa. Again, a neat idea, given that you get a nice beer and maybe eventually a tax write off when you return the bottles and underprivileged youth get to perform a function within society and Operation Come Home gets to keep somewhere upwards of half of the delivery fee. I think it was something like $8.25 per delivery, but like I say, the website is down.

That press release reached my email November 23rd at 4:43 PM.

Apparently, everything was set up properly. Beau’s ran the legality of the thing by the AGCO according to Troy Burtch over at Great Canadian Beer Blog, and everything came up aces. They were all set to go until another brewery complained. The Buy Your Beau’s Online program has been suspended indefinitely. The AGCO has not divulged which brewery complained as yet, but will have to if Beau’s decides to appeal the decision.

This press release reached my email November 24th at 5:37 PM.

All told, the program existed for 25 hours, which is not bad if you’re a mayfly.

I don’t know why, but I’m finding it somewhat difficult to register the proper amount of outrage. Possibly it’s because of the amount of relief. If I had filed the Sun Media column on this topic, I would currently be frantically rewriting it in order to update the story and get it to my interim editor, Glenn. I’m relatively familiar with the 3AM deadline; I’m in an undergrad program, after all.

Mostly what I’m doing is trying to figure out what happened. Apparently the problem is not that the delivery service employs at risk youth (which I would have some qualms about, were they not adequately supervised. There’s a significant amount of oversight, so I’m not all that concerned) but rather that the beer would have come from the brewery and not through The Beer Store. Since Beau’s is not in The Beer Store, this is impossible.

In order to get a listing in The Beer Store, there is a listing fee. In this particular circumstance, this seems extortionate. In order to go ahead with the program, they would be forced to pay the initial listing fee and per store listing fees.

Now, I don’t believe for a second that another craft brewery is the complainant in this case. First of all, there aren’t whole big bunches of them in Ottawa. Secondly, another craft brewery would probably suffer from jealousy over not having thought of the idea first. Thirdly, if the owner of another craft brewery complained, they would have to know that their name would come out eventually and that the backlash would ruin their profile within the community.

So, that leaves large breweries: The ones who own The Beer Store. I don’t know which one, but I’m betting it’s not Sapporo.

The justification must be adherence to regulations. I can understand that. It’s petty, certainly, but understandable. The problem is that it’s a PR nightmare once the name of the large brewery comes out, and it will eventually. Whoever complained shut down a program that was probably going to provide thousands of dollars in revenue monthly to a worthy charitable organization.

I mean, what spin do you put on that? Beau’s are lawbreakers? That’s a terrible idea. It makes them Robin Hood, plus they had obtained permission from the AGCO. I don’t think anyone is bold enough to try the obviously evil “exploitative of at risk youth” gambit, but there’s a possibility we’ll see that spin down the line if there’s desperation.

This is a stopgap legal measure on somebody’s part, and it exists for a great reason: If Beau’s is allowed to do this, everyone will be. It cuts out The Beer Store in a relatively ingenious way and gets beer to consumers. Breweries would be able to put their flagship brands and seasonals up online and sell them directly to the consumer. Increased awareness and viability for small brewers; the large breweries can’t afford the legal precedent, especially with their volumes dropping.

Nice Try, Steve Beauchesne. Lawyer up and keep at ’em, because a blog post, no matter how much it appeals to emotion, isn’t going to do it this time.

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