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Crain's Looks At Local Beer Wars

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Nov 22, 2010 7:00PM

2010_11_22_beer_wars.jpg We've written about the local beer wars in the past, the competition for tap handles between the local beer distributors for taps, shelf space and sales. It's long been no secret that, between the distributors and some of the bars, a sense of "Ubi Est Mea" exists. Craft breweries get lost in the shuffle. Unable to compete with what the major breweries can offer a bar, they either lose out on sales or, in the case of Bell's a few years back, pull out of the market altogether. Anat Baron's Beer Wars covers this trend nationally, but she really only scratched the surface.

Which is why Crain's report on the pay to play culture of local beer distributors and the bars they serve is a must-read. It not only lists what the local Budweiser and Miller distributors offer to accounts in exchange for placements, it names names. Metropolitan Brewing's Tracy Hurst, whose beers were originally available at State and Lake at the Wit hotel, called out Chicago Beverage Systems, the largest Miller distributor in the city, for its tactics of offering draft box upgrades, sales discounts and payments in exchange for placements. New Glarus's Deb Carey calls Chicago a "whore's market," giving a definitive answer as to whether the venerable Wisconsin brewery will return to Chicago anytime soon.

Back when we were in the bar industry we could walk into a bar, take a look at the beer list and tell you immediately which distributors were in recently, based on tap placements and cheesy advertising. Remember, the tackier the ad, the more money the beer company is making.