Friday, July 31, 2009

Beer Summit Brewhaha: U.S. Brewers are Crying in their Beer

The nation's brewers have done an excellent job of turning this week's news story about the "Beer Summit" at the White House between President Obama, Harvard professor Henry Gates, and Cambridge police officer James Crowley, into a publicity opportunity.

Gracious host that he is, the President provided his guests with their favorite brewskis. It was one small way to make them feel comfortable and welcome as they discussed a topic that has created tension nationwide -- while they talked about it in an incredibly intimidating environment.

As soon as the favorite brews of participants were revealed, domestic brewers pounced on the opportunity to create headlines by complaining that the selection of imported brands was anti-American. One of them was a company in my own backyard, Genesee Brewery, which issued a whiney statement about how the summit beverages were not American-made.

I love how so many brewers responded so quickly with the same "we've been screwed" comment. It makes me wonder if all of their PR people had a conference call to talk about whether they would get more attention by all whining to the press separately, or by leaving it to an industry group to speak on their behalf. ("You make the comment about how the beers should have been brewed by American workers and you talk about the evils of foreign domination!")

I hope much of the fussing is tongue in cheek, though. The point of this summit was to help open a dialogue. It's hard to get people comfortable enough to do this if you over-orchestrate every detail. These gentlemen were in an awkward position -- let them at least enjoy their favorite brew. If it's not your brand, try to convert them now by delivering a case of your best product to their doors. It's not like you don't know where Gates lives.

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