Boxes. So many boxes. Box upon box full of beer arrive at my house and pile up in the front hall. They come from brewers around the country who would like me to write about their beer for Today.com or FSR Magazine.
I’ve been a little lax in keeping up lately, letting two weeks worth of samples collect next to the front door until my wife asked if we were opening our own UPS Store. Message received, I took some time this past Saturday to open everything up and see what treasures lie within.
There were things there from the usual suspects – Stone, New Belgium, Kona, and several other brewers who regularly send me their wares. But I realized someone was missing – Samuel Adams.
Samuel Adams has a great PR company – the send samples, they regularly invite me to events, and they’ve always been super responsive when I’ve sent a request their way. But I realized I hadn’t heard a peep out of them since January, when I wrote about a conflict between Lagunitas and Samuel Adams. Strange.
A brief background for those of you who missed that story. Lagunitas founder Tony Magee claimed that Samuel Adams was using shady “big beer” tactics to launch their new West Coast style IPA, called Rebel IPA. Magee said Boston Beer was specifically targeting the bar and restaurant taps held by Lagunitas IPA and other West Coast IPAs for takeover, something that craft brewers don’t do (distributors try it all the time, but the brewers stay above the fray, according to Magee).
I sent a list of questions to both Lagunitas and the PR company that reps Samuel Adams, and posted those answers here on the site without editing a word of them. I mentioned in the post that Magee answered my questions and that Jim Koch supplied a statement through his PR company.
And now I’ve had zero contact with the Samuel Adams camp since I hit “publish.” No packages, no emails, nothing – just total radio silence since the day that post went live.
I reached out to the PR company to confirm what I already suspected – I’ve been cut off. But the reason given was surprising.
I was told that my crime was mentioning Samuel Adams had a PR firm in the Lagunitas piece. What?
I can see why they might be sensitive to this fact coming to light, especially because Tony Magee used it to paint Samuel Adams as being too big and corporate when he responded to my questions, saying:
You mentioned to me that you were waiting for an answer from the other brewer’s PR firm. There is no PR company responding for Lagunitas here and that in and of itself might tell you something about the nature of things.
But Tony’s wrong – lots and lot of small, friendly, crafty brewers have PR companies. These brewers grew up in the digital age and know that sometimes you need help to get the word out about your brewery. It’s not a valid knock on Samuel Adams, especially because of their size – a company that large better have a PR firm! It should also be noted that breweries that don’t have PR firms usually employ a PR person or a whole PR team to manage and promote the brewery’s public image (including Lagunitas). Everyone’s doing it – outsourcing this function is really no big deal.
But apparently mentioning it is, which I find baffling.
Now’s a good time to mention that the PR firm said it was their decision to back away from me – no one from Samuel Adams was mentioned as being part of the decision-making process.
Of course who knows what the truth is – these are spin doctors we’re dealing with, after all. It could be simply that the PR company wanted to remain invisible and I crossed that line (which is a very weird line to draw), or perhaps it’s the fact that I shed more light on a story that could make Samuel Adams look bad in the eyes of some. Whatever the real reason, I know this – it’s bullshit.
I’ve been a defender of Samuel Adams as a craft brewer on these pages, and have featured their products several times on the TODAY Show’s website. Sharing these stories was a great way to introduce a mainstream audience to the wonders of craft beer through a brand that they are comfortable with. I’ve written about Utopias, their new cans, their Longshot homebrew winners, the wedding beer Brewlywed, their Boston Marathon beer, etc., etc., etc.
And now a single mention of having a PR firm on my personal blog gets me blacklisted? That’s crazy.
Of course sharing this story with you folks probably won’t help, but I always try to be honest and give you some insights on what happens behind the curtain in the craft beer world. I don’t really care if I miss out on Samuel Adams samples (although I’ll miss the Utopias) or if I’m denied access to Jim Koch moving forward (who’s always been charming and gracious when I’ve spoken with him).
I just think it’s a shame that being transparent and fair got me in the doghouse – that doesn’t sound like the craft beer industry I know.
UPDATE: I was contacted by the folks at Samuel Adams a couple of weeks ago, and everything is patched up. They stressed they had no hand in the events described above and would like me to deal with them directly moving forward. Hooray for
hoppy happy endings!