I figured, after breaking an almost eleven-year principle of never dumping by name on an American independent craft brewery, it would be a good six, eight months before I found any reason to unload on a brewery again. I genuinely do NOT want to criticize US craft breweries by name. I have occasionally pointed out a problem that exists at one or more breweries (and wineries, rarely distilleries) by using “they” or “them” or “this company” but, up until yesterday and the sickening evolution of the ongoing racism scandal at Founders Brewing, of Grand Rapids, I never ONCE used any name other than Anheuser Busch or AB/InBev, both of whom embody corporate thuggery/douchery and richly deserved to be shat upon, daily.
For the Founders atrocity, see the previous post. For today, however…
Courtesy of my Facebook acquaintance, Jeff Alworth (no relation to Lance), a razor-sharp Portland beer scribe, I was made aware of the abrupt – as in “no notice whatsoever” – shuttering of the former Lagunitas Brewing Community Room in northeast Portland, a space similar to other spaces that the former Lagunitas opened in several locations before they had completed the 2016 sale of their remaining stock to Heineken N.V., the Dutch mega-brewery that makes the slight, underwhelming lager we have all tried and mostly dismissed.
The Community Room was a brilliant idea of putting a modest taproom facility together, at minimal cost, and allowing local charitable organizations to use it free of charge, for their fund-raising events. It was madly popular with the always-struggling charitable organizations in the PDX area and the only beers available there were, of course, Lagunitas, so they made a modest cash-stream out of little more than a couple of employees, minimal up-front investment, and a mid-sized space. Since 2016, it had worked quite well and civic groups loved it. It made Lagunitas’ sell-out to a huge foreign entity a lot more palatable for beer fans concerned with seeing American craft breweries gobbled up by faceless bean-counters. It even made Heineken look kinda, uh, like a friend of craft, maybe, a bit, sorta?
On October 22nd, Heineken hung a closing notice on the door, gave their couple of employees a small severance package, and stiffed a LONG list of upcoming users of the space. Literally hundreds of events for these small to mid-size charities were left hanging and had to be either cancelled or moved, quickly. As MOST of these organizations skate upon very thin ice and rely heavily on special events for much of their annual fund-raising, it is entirely possible that some may wind up having to suspend operations, cut staff, or even disband.
In short, it was the same kind of move you’d expect from a soulless multinational corporate conglomerate which probably looked at this small line on a P&L sheet, saw that it didn’t produce a bonanza for their bean-counters, and simply waived it out of existence.
Whether it’s right or wrong to see it this way, Lagunitas – not “Lagunitas” as it was under original owner Tony Magee but now “Lagunitas” in legal DBA terms ONLY – bears the blame for this sort of haughty “fuck you” to the Portland area. I had refused to go ballistic when Heineken first bought into Lagunitas in 2016, even though I had certainly heard of some rather nasty shenanigans from the company, in Africa and Asia, mainly because they weren’t Anheuser Busch, with an outright, very public record of marketplace thuggery and illegal acts, here in the US – for 120 fuggen years. My reasoning (my very stoopid reasoning) was that Heineken would see the example of how Bud has been lambasted by American craft drinkers and would straighten up, with this first foray into the US craft market.
I was dead wrong, of course, as we now see. At the time Lagunitas’ sale to Heineken was completed, I had a real urge to lay into them and their new owners for selling out yet another fine, accomplished independent brewery but I laid off. In for a dime, in for a dollar, was my reasoning.
Now, Heineken has no presence in Portland, has my $1.10, and has just one place left in the Pacific Northwest, something called “Lagunitas Brewing Company TapRoom & Beer Sanctuary”, in Seattle.
The public response from Lagunitas/Heineken? As the screenshot shows, just empty palliatives and some sort of lame inference that it was out of their hands. “We held out as long as we could…“? Really? Let me assure you of one inarguable FACT: for a gigantic corporation like Heineken NV, the cost of running something like this Community Room in Portland would not even show up on their P&L sheets as a measurable percentage. I’m sure Heineken would like to whine and moan about “hold out as long as we could” and slap themselves on the back for “helped as much as we did in the space“, but that dog won’t hunt. Heineken and Asahi and AB/InBev and Carlsberg and Molson Coors and Tsingtao and Kirin could each easily afford to open and maintain a similar charitable facility in every major US city and run them indefinitely without their shareholders even noticing. The fact that they don’t just illuminates the one trait that all those have in common: Oblivious, avaricious, manipulative marketplace douchebaggery.
This was an operation that I could have maintained, even selling only my beers. And their pointed silence on their reasons for fucking over the 300 or so organizations who would have hosted events there in the next year (they did over 300 last year) reveals mostly that they likely don’t have a reason that would make sense to rational people. I suspect – with no proof at all except that I know corporate thinking all too well and have seen this kind of thing a dozen times, in the past – that some middle-level market manager, who has probably never been to PDX and knows (or cares) nothing about the community or beer culture, looked at a ledger page and saw that the Portland Community Room was producing less cash flow than their other retail operations and decided to just drop the hammer. There is a very technical business term for a middle management drone like that, who mainly decides things on the basis of what he thinks will please his bosses enough make them give him a tummy rub…
I’m really hoping – and quite blatantly asking anyone who reads this to do it – that people in Seattle and Chicago will hear about this screw job down in Portland and understand that Heineken quite likely has those locations in its cross-hairs. I’m hoping that enough of the Lagunitas crowd is NOT craft newbie trend-seekers that they will just stop patronizing that facility and that people everywhere will STOP buying the canned, bottled, or tapped beers from both the alien mother and her domestic hell-spawn, like right fucking NOW. As someone who spent far too many years of his life enmeshed in the world of larger beverage commerce – wading through the muck and mire of the Gallos and Budweisers and Diageos and Carlsbergs and Asahis and Beringers, et al – I can assure you that there has never been a measuring device invented that can accurately plumb the depths to which international mega-corps will sink to service either their black ink or some Agenda. Literally NOTHING can be put past empty suits like Heineken and AB and anyone who smirks at the idea that corporate attitudes and sleazy strategies matter, “As long as the brew is tasty, Man!“, is not someone with whom I’m comfortable sharing the label of homo sapiens.
YEAH, I AM ABSOLUTELY ASKING YOU TO BOYCOTT HEINEKEN AND LAGUNITAS. Don’t buy another fucking drop. And for all those who have been fans of the at-times remarkable Lagunitas beers (Brown Shugga remains one of the best tap beers I have ever tasted) and can’t imagine life without them, let me remind you that America, here in 2019, is awash in beer; literally some craft producer or another is within maybe fifty miles of just about every living, over-21 soul in the land. And at least 98% of all these are small (say under a dozen employees) and independent and very concerned with being good corporate citizens, for the best reason possible: they are your neighbors…your friends, your homies, maybe even your family. And despite all the beer-geeky teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing I read constantly – from people bored and indolent enough waste their time finding that very small number of breweries that actually are “sub-standard” – there is a freakin’ ocean of truly excellent beer out there and most of us can get in our cars and drive to some of it within 30 minutes or less.
There are right around 8,000 breweries in the US. Even being fanatically rigid, as I am, and excluding all the Bud Whore-Outs like The Artist Formerly Known as Ely**an, in Seattle, and 10 Barrel and Blue Point and Karbach and Goose Island and Golden Showe…uh, I mean the former Golden Road Brewing, (now Anheuser Busch LA), there are less than two dozen out of that 8K which are run buy corporate shit-weasels. I GUARANTEE that you can find, in very short order, a beer that’s even BETTER that your fave Lagunitas quaff, if you put down the Brown Shugga, step away from the whored-out pint, and visit some of your own area’s breweries.
Sadly, human nature being what it is, it takes a stern and vigorous swat on the ass to corporate drones to penetrate their fog of Insider Smarm and teach them that, oh yeah, those are REAL PEOPLE out there, on the receiving end of their dismissive proclamations and ledger-sheet thinking. And situations like this one – a high-handed power-play that has left real people unemployed and real charitable victims and an entire shell-shocked powerhouse beer culture in its wake – are the exact time when hitting them squarely in their bank accounts is not only appropriate but, if you care about the future of craft beer in America, our precise duty.
DONE with Heineken.
DONE with Lagunitas.
And DONEDONEDONE the corporate dismissiveness and blindness they represent.
But wait! Sadly, tragically, there’s…MORE…
POSTSCRIPT: As if this were not enough of a Bad Week for Portland (and the Pacific Northwest), we get word that the venerable Lompoc Brewing, an old and chronically underrated brewery that has turned out some of my most cherished PNW beers – C-Note Imperial IPA, LSD (Lompoc Strong Draft), Batch 69 Baltic Porter(!) – is closing down two of their three locations and ceasing brewing operations. Lompoc’s head brewer, Brian Kielty, has already found other employment, so we won’t be totally deprived of his swoon-inducing oddball aesthetic, but just where he’s landed has not yet been revealed.
What happened to Lompoc is the least-attractive/most unfair dynamic of the craft brewing culture: breweries manage to stay in business for years, evolve, often get REALLY, seriously good at what they do…and then become an after-thought, a fifth wheel on the big ol’ mega-bus of the craft beer “scene”. Lompoc was no longer the Flavor of The Month. They sold beer, not buzz. They promoted food and flavor and hospitality, not See and Be Seen. They didn’t traffic in Pecan Waffle White Truffle Marshmallow-Lemongrass Milkshake IPAs. They didn’t pander.
So, they died.
I’m REALLY hoping that – someday, after I’m fertilizing some chubby, pudgy plot of land and remembered only by my grandchildren (sometimes, maybe) – America’s brewing culture grows the FUCK up; starts to figure out that this word all the craft newbies fling at all their new, shiny-bauble, beer start-ups – “Great” – actually IS a Thing, has a meaning beyond whatever juice-box surrogate the twenty-somethings obsess about for a week or so. Actual greatness is achieved, earned, learned, grown into, not whelped like a rat Mama spewing out a litter. Deschutes is Great. Fort George is Great. Chuckanut is Great. pFriem, Crux, Full Sail, Walking Man, Rogue, Logsdon, Cascade, Ninkasi, Pike, Reuben’s Brews, Engine House No. 9, Holy Mountain…those are Great. MANY other newer breweries may very well become great. But they are not great now, no matter how many of your friends you see in their taprooms or how many people are clamoring for their newest beer or how much buzz they have circling their name like flies on a dog pile.
(Just as a public service to all those newbies (in case one might become lost on the internet and happen to read this…in case any of them can read) THIS is the hard and fast fact about “greatness” and nothing you think changes this: The simple fact that your fave new brewery makes some beers that you and five or six of your pals think are great, that does NOT make them great for everyone. In beer, as in EVERY other fuggen thing in life, Experience Matters and you can laugh at that sort of geezer thinking all you like…as long as you’re aware that, someday, the geezer will be YOU.)
New Old Lompoc Brewing – lately shortened to just “Lompoc” – was a certain level of modest greatness. Not every beer and not for blowing up your cred. But they were great often enough that it put them half a dozen cuts above many of the current raft of Pretenders. And now they’re gone.
RIP, Lompoc. You deserved better. Portland and the PNW beer scene deserved better.