On a quiet Saturday night this past weekend, a minor donnybrook took place at a downtown Boston bar. Normally, this kind of news would have gone unnoticed, but as it went down on Twitter, focusing on craft beer and the people who love and promote it, word spread like wildfire. What this says about the growing craft beer culture, and the hyper social media that now engulfs that culture, is concerning to say the least.
According to Universal Hub, which first posted about the Twitter-based dust-up Sunday night, it all began when Will Gordon, a blogger who covers beer for Deadspin and has covered sports for Boston.com, supposedly overheard a bartender at Stoddard’s Fine Food and Ale say something disparaging about a beer they were pouring that night, and tweeted about it. According to Gordon’s tweet, the bartender was overheard dissing the offering as a “marketing fad for chumps.”
That beer was Founder’s KBS, a coffee- and chocolate-tinged imperial stout, which for serious suds fans is a well-known and highly rated brew, which had been quietly promoted by the Stoddard’s through Facebook. At $12 for a 10-ounce pour it’s not something particularly targeted towards the masses, or most palettes for that matter. That said, according to Universal Hub, the “only problem is people at the bar claim Gordon overheard a private conversation and mistweeted what was actually said; that the bartender was not dissing the beer and making a general comment about the economy.” After that, the shit hit the social media fan.
Stoddard’s bar manager Jamie Walsh immediately defended his bartender and his bar on Twitter saying Gordon had misquoted a private conversation, and called him out for going public with it. Gordon disagreed, and became increasingly defensive throughout the digital melee, which was replete with racist overtones (tweeting, “how can I possibly have a good night with all the townie mick drunk tough guys mad at me?”), all while openly mocking the owner and Stoddard’s in the process. At the time of this writing, the conflict was still raging online.
So why isn’t this just another shit-fight on Twitter and where does the craft beer industry come in? Much like the restaurant industry has been inundated with customer thrashings online, (see: Yelp), the craft beer industry enjoys the same backhanded love, but the perpetrators seem to be slightly pissier (and often a whole lot drunker).
“I’m not sure how Will Gordon, as a beer blogger, has every right to have opinions about beers but my bartender, who is serving the beer, is not allowed to have an opinion?” Walsh said after I messaged him about the matter. “It’s hard for me to remain silent as a small business (owner) that is being bullied by someone who is drunk-tweeting to 5000 followers.”
Anyone even tangentially involved on the journalism or blogging side of craft beer understands that the industry has become increasingly cutthroat, and like its competition in “big beer” engages in strategic promos, product pushes, and so on to stay competitive. With that shift, the line becomes ever more blurred between quality commentary and spiteful, thoughtless tweeting (drunk or otherwise).
“I get hit with shit like this once a month or so. We all do,” says Walsh. “I ignore it or try to resolve the issues. Sometimes they are just little petty things. This one was different.”
I agree. This was different. And that’s a shame.