AB hopes that the sparkle and pizzazz of the New Shiny Bauble will distract us from their creeping disease in the midst of one of the greatest American business phenomena in history, Small Independent Brewing
Ever since I started writing The Pour Fool, in the online pages of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2008, people have emailed me and said some variation on the theme of this:
“Why don’t you ever say anything bad about wines or beers or booze? Everything CAN’T be that wonderful. Why all the lollipops ‘n’ unicorns?”
I’ve explained this about 500 times in those nine years but here goes again: I don’t see any point in publicizing the mediocre or even the merely good. And I especially don’t feel any need to prove how clever I am. Being snarky is EASY. Many writers go out of their way to stick a fork in somebody or that somebody’s beverages because they know it’ll generate clicks. I have proof: one of the three most viewed blog posts on the subject of beer and brewing in internet history was in this very blog, back in early September of 2011. It was entitled “Why I Don’t Drink Budweiser…and Why I’m Not Alone“. It scared the hell out of me, frankly. I’m told by the WordPress people that the original post at seattlepi.com is still generating triple-digit views every month. Here, it’s high double digits. Last figure I read was 3,112,626 views…and counting. And what was that post? Me, snarking out on Ab/InBev, the corporate thugs from Belgium and Brazil who brew that sorriest excuse for “beer” that ever existed, Budweiser, and all its equally watery and insipid spin-offs.
I got that lesson but it never once motivated me to Snark4Clicks and never will. But I have extended that snark-eligible status to this wave of breweries, starting with Goose Island Brewing, back in 2011, (a volatile year, eh?) that have sold out to the sworn enemy of their very own culture that made them fat and comfy and is pushing onward as AB continues trying to buy Indie (Craft) Beer Cred that they are incapable of earning the conventional way by, y’know, like, brewing beer?
Today’s post is about one of those breweries and any appetites for snark will probably be sated. Most of AB’s acquisitions took their advice, let people scream obscenities at them, suffered the inevitable business losses as those of us beer fans with ANY scruples and ethics wrote them off forever and erased their breweries from our consciousness, and consoled themselves with the purely symbloic gesture by AB of letting them remain, a hanger-on in the brewery that they built, for appearances sake…and by those piles of cash that AB overpaid for their businesses.
(I usually like to put graphics into posts, because people like pictures and I do, too. But that would mean putting these people’s faces and logo and beers in this post and I’m not doing anything, here, to help them peddle their lowest-common-denominator “beers”.)
But one – coincidentally the worst brewery of the eleven so far swallowed whole by The Gaping Maw of Leuven, Belgium – has chosen to create their own, presumably Trump-inspired La La Land in which they’re not really owned by Anheuser Busch/InBev, don’t deserve any criticism, and should be allowed to sit at the Big Kids Table of American Independent Beer just as if nothing at all had happened with their sub-par brewery.
Golden Road Brewing, located in Los Angeles, California, was sold off 100% to AB/InBev in September of 2015. Founders Tony Yanow and Meg Gill had run it since its inception in 2011, and had engaged in a relentless PR campaign to promote the brand. I went into my email archives and found 119 press releases from GR in those four years, all touting the beers, almost as an aside, and claiming supremacy in the LA beer community…which, to be honest, was a distinction, at the time, on the order of “World’s Tallest Midget”. LA is now a GREAT beer town but they came VERY late to the party. For some quick perspective on this claim, if GR was the best in LA, in 2011, you could have taken them to Poulsbo, Washington, a bucolic Scandinavian village of 9,500 souls, with five breweries in it, on in an inlet of Puget Sound, and they would have been sixth-best there. There was no reason to dispute their claim because some of those great LA breweries of 2017 weren’t that great then and, really, “best brewery in LA“? Meh. Who gave a shit?
The problem with Golden Road was that, sandwiched in between opening your doors and claiming to be the “best” of the place you’re in, there is one knotty little speed bump that can send your whole operation off the Interstate of Ale in a BIG hurry: making beer. I got samples of the Golden Road beers and was STUNNED – as in shocked and bewildered – by how immediately and blatantly bad they were. I live in a corner of this country in which it is more rare than a major meteor impact to find a new brewery whose beers are not at least drinkable. There are exactly, by actual tasting, TWO breweries in the Pacific Northwest whose beers I’ve just found to be uniformly bad and wrong. One is right here in my hometown of Tacoma and one is in a little waterfront village about forty miles north of here. EVERYBODY else ranges from good and enjoyable to “Holy Freakin’ Crap, Bubba, What The Fuck was That and How Do I get MORE?”
So tasting these frantically over-hyped beers from a brewery in the largest city in America’s largest brewing state was a Revelation – and not a good one.
I never wrote a word about Golden Road and they evidently noticed, because I started getting emailed queries: “I notice that there’s been no coverage of Golden Road in your blog. Is there a problem? Can we provide samples? Hi-res graphics? Interview with the owners?” I send out a standard reply to all PR releases from new breweries that are not distributed here in WA state, saying that I never write about products that I have not personally sampled. If beers are available here, I just buy ’em and write reviews, when warranted. I had sent that message to GR and got no reply. Not unusual. Some breweries don’t have samples, can’t afford them, or just don’t ship samples as a matter of policy. Mine came from my network of Beer Peers, from a friend in LA, who shipped up a box of seven, with a note saying, “Taste these, please, and let me know what you think.”
I figured he had wanted me to taste them because he was knocked out by them and wanted me to share his enthusiasm. I carefully wrote back that I thought they needed a bit of work. He replied witin five minutes, saying,”Work, shmurk. What they need is a new fucking brewer and better recipes.” After the veil was thus torn asunder, we traded emails about how some brewery in L-fuggen-A could possibly make such inadequate beer and make so many big claims about it. I read up on the people involved and came away with the distinct impression that this was some sort of post-MBA project mounted by people who really didn’t know much about beer but liked the emerging glamor of the “Craft Beer Lifestyle”. I simply stopped reading their emails. This was not a new brewery in growing pains. Their email query about my lack of coverage came THREE YEARS into their existence.
It came as no surprise at all when, in 2015, Golden Road was snapped up by Anheuser Busch, another company for whom The Image Is The Reality. AB’s 80 year habit is to place their emphasis on their packaging, celebrity endorsements, sports affiliations, funny ads (usually protraying their own core customers as some degree of Drooling Idiots: “I love you, maaaan!” “You’re not getting my Bud Light.”), and careful puffery like Born-On dating, “Fresh Beer tastes Better!”, “Beechwood Aged”, and that Golden Oldie of Empty Phraseology, “The KING of BEERS!” AB quit emphasizing the flavor of their beers decades ago, mostly because any A/B comparison of Bud’s products with ANY craft beer quickly reveals that AB’s beers taste like weak grain tea with bubbles and a faint intimation of hops. AB cannot argue flavor because they have about as much as you get from sucking your just-washed thumb, unless, maybe, you wash it with a scented hand soap and don’t rinse.
Golden Road was ripe for a take-over from somebody and AB was such a perfect repository for all that PR-dependent beer hype that, unlike with every other brewery sell-out that’s happened since Goose Island’s original Bud Victimhood, I didn’t even go ballistic about it here. I didn’t, in fact, even mention it in The Pour Fool. I wrote one Facebook post, in answer to the dozens of readers who wrote me saying, ‘Well, I guess you’ll go ballistic about Golden Road, Huh?”
Here is ALL I wrote, from September 25th, 2015, on Facebook:
“I’ve gotten a boatload of inquiries from people about AB/InBev acquiring Golden Road Brewing of LA, I think wanting to know if Mount St. Steve was going to have another colorful eruption. The answer is NO, I’m not. This is NOTHING like the loss of 10 Barrel or Elysian and the true excellence both of those represented. From its inception, GR has been FAR more about Sizzle than Steak. The two young noobs who opened it are mainline LA Young Movers ‘N’ Shakers who seemed to believe that how beer is marketed is what’s important, producing a line of totally pedestrian, undistinguished beers that had zero new about them. “Servicable” is the best I could say about them and I think – with NO evidence – that their real goal was to raise their profile just enough to get gobbled up my AB. They’re certainly celebratory enough about it, constantly posting nonsense about their new “partners”…For me to get all hot about this would be saying that there’s something missing from the American Craft Beer Community since this sale…and, honestly, I just don’t think that’s the case. My take? “Meh.“
And that should have been the last time I ever paid attention to Golden Showe…I mean Golden Road. But, unlike all those previous four owners who peddled their asses and integrity to AB, and all the ones since, Yanow and Gill didn’t go into virtual hiding and take their lumps gracefully. Yanow continues to chant, “Nothing is different. Nothing is different!” like what would happen if your parrot got into your Benadryl stash, and Gill has embarked down a long river voyage down Denial.
On May 17th, in Oakland’s brilliant community online newspaper, The East Bay Express, they covered the visit of Meg Gill to Oakland, where – over the STRENUOUS objections of The Bay area’s existing independent brewers and community – AB is planning to open a Golden Road “biergarten” and restaurant in North Oakland. The plan has met with howling opposition from a brewers/citizens group called Temescal Friends. In true AB/InBev fashion, Gill clearly demonstrated that she and Yannow and their corporate puppet masters don’t give two shits about whether the recipient commnunity of their touching largesse will benefit at all from the presence of a large, loud brewer of sub-par beers or not. They’re going to shove their way into the Oakland/SF market, anyway, because they’re By God Anheuser Busch and kings don’t need anybody’s approval for a land grab. Gill spent two solid hours to basically tell the citizens whose neighborhood she’s invading that they can go fuck themselves…but with a twist: Gill played her (Donald) Trump Card, calling news reports saying that Golden Road is a subsidiary of AB/InBev – quoting now from The East Bay Express – “In fact, she suggested more than once that Golden Road wasn’t really even associated with Anheuser-Busch, even telling a group of residents on Wednesday that “non-factual opinion columns” are trying to paint Golden Road as part of Anheuser-Busch, and that such reports are — her words — “fake news.”
Going on, she whined that she “feels abused” by all the unexpedted criticism, saying – also to East Bay Express – “I think that your articles are abusive. I think that you’re incredibly discriminatory against a successful businesswoman who has done well, partnered with a big beer company, and is now wanting to build in Oakland, just like Rare Barrel or any of these other guys.”
So…let’s get this straight: statements that GR is affiliated with AB are “non-factual opinion columns” and “fake news”…but then she says, in the same city, that she’s “partnered with a big brewery“. Which is it, Meggie? Can’t be both.
Here’s my take on Golden Road and Meg Gill and the whole palate-load of BS that seeks to distance this mediocre brewery from a company which paid out enormous dollars for a position in the LA beer community and which DOES, in actual FACT, own what Meg Gill insists on continuing to refer to as “craft beer” and “MY brewery”:
Meg Gill and Tony Yanow are living sandwich boards for that most clichéd denizen of Los Angeles, USA: the over-privileged post-millennial Trendie: that plasticized sub-set of Hollywood stereotypes that would – if he’d climb down off his weary pose as some Populist Action Figure for the IQ-challenged American gene-pool drain scum – be the ideal place for Donald Trump to wallow in the empty celebrity and ostentatious opulence he so cleary cherishes; a culture that would not only allow his sort of delusional state but would, in fact, encourage him to whip up whatever ego-nourishing fantasies he needs and would reward him for it, too. That’s Gil and Yanow, to me: privileged ladder-climbers who refuse to see that selling out the American Indie/Craft Beer culture for the easy dollars of Indie beer’s sworn enemy DOES carry consequences. Despite whatever contempt I have for the Cox idiots in Bend or the comedy team of Bissaca and Buhler in Seattle or Asheville’s Most Clueless, Walt and Luke Dickinson, they, at very least, realized that they’d have to take a tsunami of shit from outraged beer fans and acted (at least in public. Not in several emails I got from some of them) like they understood, and grudgingly Cowboyed Up.
LA Mover ‘n’ Shaker, Miz Meg Gill, considers herself above all that. She seems to feel that reality should cut her a break and that she can do whatever she damned well pleases and anybody who questions that is committing gender oppression and selling “fake news“. One thing you cannot say about Meg Gill is that she’s oblivious of current events. She saw Trump get elected while calling any and all criticism of him “fake news” and took the hint. Reality is what Miz Gill sayeth it shall be and that is that. Only that’s NOT, uh, THAT.
I URGE the citizens of Oakland to fight this unwelcome, unsupported, oblivious, arrogant, presumptuous incursion into THEIR community, THEIR neighborhoods, and THEIR culture with every breath. And if Gill and Yanow and the Suits Holding The Strings do manage to put this Crap Beer Nexus into Oakland, make damned sure it’s empty from opening night until they padlock the doors. This is, absolutely, about the personal antipathy that I and MILLIONS of other American fans of REAL beer have for intrusive thugs like AB/InBev, yes, but there’s a far larger and more pressing issue at play here: the right of any community to determine what is good for its growth and stability and what operates in clear opposition to its economic interests and civic well-being. It SHOULD matter that a city like Oakland simply does not WANT a Golden Road Baboon’s Ass Pub and Septic Service plonked down in the middle of it and city planners who shrug and say, “Our hands are tied!” are not, realistically, abiding by the laws and insuring fairness. They’re roosting in a comfy little ass-covering dodge and neglecting to protect the interests of the people they CLAIM to serve. Really, after all this is considered and all questions of AB’s intentions and Gill’s festering ego are set aside, what does anybody get out of a Golden Corra…sorry, Golden Stee…sorry! Golden Road beer garden in North Oakland? It’s NOT about money. Public loathing – as is seen now in San Diego and 10 Barrel’s shoved-up-the-butt “pub” there – is going to limit revenues, possibly permanently. Gill’s snot-dripping round of whiny Oakland interviews and simpering about how this is “Like, uh, SO Unfair!” has made no friends. The added jobs are minimal. So…WHY!?!
The answer: Cred. A presence in San Francisco and Oakland for the (self-anointed) “King of Beers!” (that exclamation point: VERY important!) A bit of leverage in their painfully transparent Master Plan to drag all American beer and brewing back to where they continue to insist it rightfully belongs: their boardrooms. AB tried repeatedly to make faux-craft beers and failed miserably at every one…until they blatantly stole the concept of one of their market rivals, SABMiller’s fine Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Ale, and clumsily copied it, completely blew the style’s lovely, subtle spice character all out of proportion – Less is Not More. We’re Americans, to AB, so WAAAY More is What MORE is, By God! – and made a minor, unoriginal market niche among the Terminally Tasteless for what is possibly the worst mass-produced beer ever to sit on shelves in the US, the heinous Shock Top.
AB/InBeb snottily ignored, scoffed at, and ridiculed craft beer until far past the point at which it was too late for them to do anything practical about stopping its growth. Now, they’re reduced to these sniveling strategies of incursion and chants of “We Love Breweries Everywhere!“, while sneaking around legislatures in every state, tossing nails and broken glass into the path of small, independent breweries, praying that something will allow them to reclaim their catbird seat atop the American brewing world. Using superficially hip, trendy, youth-oriented images – Meg Gill appears to be photogenic and have personal charisma, if you close one eye and cross the other one…and don’t hear her speak – AB hopes that the sparkle and pizzazz of the New Shiny Bauble will distract us from their creeping disease in the midst of one of the greatest American business phenomena in history, Small Independent Brewing
DON’T. BE. FOOLED.
Golden Road Brewing IS a wholly-owned subsidiary of AB/InBev, a Belgian/Brazilian brewing and diversified conglomerate which doesn’t give two shits about ANYTHING but either destroying this country’s Indie Brewing culture or, failing that, controlling it…and they’re not really particular about which.