Here’s an article about a prominent beer bar in Denver that has stopped carrying a craft brewer’s brands in part because of the craft brewer moving into the retail market as an on-premise competitor.
Falling Rock Owner's Angry Open Letter
Since when did it become evil for craft brewers to be successful and grow? Even without a takeover from big brewers? Apparently that time is now.
A nearly two-decade relationship between two of Colorado's most prominent beer businesses is coming to an end. Chris Black, the owner of Denver's foremost beer bar Falling Rock, is apparently incensed by Oskar Blues Brewery's recent moves and has decided to part ways with the brewer, pulling their offerings from his tap lines.
Chris let his feelings be known on Facebook in an open letter to Oskar Blues that read, well, like a breakup letter.
If you've ever been on the brink of splitting up with a significant other you've undoubtedly had your boyfriend/girlfriend try to abruptly end things with that one word jab: "Bye." But you know that's not the end: often the phone rings again and your soon-to-be ex-partner rejoins with an "actually, you know what" and lists the reasons for their contempt.
That's pretty much how this open letter goes.
Chris begins the letter with: "Bye." But he's compelled to explain his reasoning for the split.
He, like many, is still trying to figure out how the "differing methods of financing" in the beer landscape affect a brewery's craft status. He's sure one's craft card is revoked after selling to the "Industrobrewers," but for the other strategies [i.e., private equity], he thinks it's best "to play a wait-and-see game."
Evidently he's played the wait-and-see game long enough with Oskar Blues, and claims their "recent actions point towards a brewery" that "ISN'T craft"; so he wants "nothing to do with" them.
What are these actions Chris speaks of?
Well, Chris has a major issue with Oskar Blues' presence, or lack thereof, in state brewers guilds. He said their departure from the Colorado Brewers Guild left "a large hole" in the Guild's budget and finds it frustrating that they seemingly have no intention to join the North Carolina Brewers Guild or the Texas Brewers Guild and presumes it will be the same story in Florida.
"Yes, I know that not every brewery belongs to the Local and National Trade Organizations, just the ones that care about progressing the industry, want to protect it from the Industrobrewers, & want to be able to protect the small brewer's access to market," said Chris.
The other move grinding Chris's gears is Oskar Blues' recent announcement of a "Music Venue/Beer Hall in Downtown Denver." Indeed, Oskar Blues Fooderies announced last week its third project in 2016, a joint restaurant and music venue in the historic Market Center, serving "burgers, beer and live music."
The most infuriating part of this new endeavor for Chris is apparently the fact that it will hold 43 taps. "When you want to sell your own products, I am a huge supporter, when your primary goal is to sell other people's beers, I'm not so much in favor," Chris said. "That's kinda the job for the accounts out in the marketplace."
Chris noted that he has "LOTS of choices" when it comes to putting brands on tap at Falling Rock and he said he selects the ones "brewed by brewers that don't actively & directly compete with me." It may be "legal" for Oskar Blues to carry competitor's beers, but it "doesn't make it right," Chris said.
Staying true to the breakup format, Chris concludes the letter with a snide wish-you-well remark: "Have a terrific life driving your warehouse full of exotic cars." And a what-was-I-thinking comment, "I was your first account outside of your immediate area of Lyons. I've been a loyal supporter & account ever since. I feel like such a sucker."
OSKAR BLUES RESPONDS. Westword reached out to Oskar Blues spokesman Chad Melis for comment on Chris's "open letter." Oskar Blues is appreciative of Falling Rock's work with the brand, as Chad credited Chris as "an early adopter for Oskar Blues, and we want to thank him for playing the role that he did."
Still, they took issue with some of the comments expressed in the letter. Some of them seem flat out wrong: Chad said they are actually part of the Texas Brewers Guild, and explained that their departure from the Colorado Brewers Guild was due to "cost" and the "organization's direction." (Chad elaborated to us: there was a time Oskar Blues was the single largest contributor to the Colorado Brewers Guild (based on volume); Chad was also the marketing chair on a volunteer basis, and OB created Burning Can as a fundraiser for the Colorado Brewers Guild. "But as we've continued to grow and the Guild has continued to take on more and more breweries ... our needs and approach has changed, so we went a different direction." Seems within the range of a private company's rights to us.)
He contends that Oskar Blues has long been supportive of the industry and other breweries, saying they've "always been responsive and helpful, and that it supports the scene with its restaurants."
Where do they go from here? "We will continue to do the things we do. Opening restaurants and matching live music with craft beer is something [Oskar Blues Fooderies] likes to do and is in our DNA," said Chad.
IT'S THE SAME APPROACH, ACTUALLY, FOR THE FOODERIES OPERATION. We got Chad on the phone, too. He reiterated his thanks to Chris for being one of Oskar Blues's early adopters.
But as for Chris's ranting on what Oskar Blues has "become"? Let's not forget that Oskar Blues started as a restaurant in '97 itself, featuring local craft beer from the likes of Left Hand, which at that time made an Oskar Ale. In fact Dale grew up in the restaurant business, which his mom handed down to him.
Further, the Oskar Blues brewery and Oskar Blues Fooderies are technically two separate businesses, because, well, laws. When Dale founded Oskar Blues, it was actually called Cajun Grill Restaurant, then became a brewpub in 1999 -- the top producing brewpub in America, in fact. Then in 2008 they added the Longmont brewery, and when they did that, they transitioned the original Cajun Grill back to a restaurant as part of the then-developed Oskar Blues Fooderies group. Hence the separation of OB and OB Fooderies.
To that point, this latest downtown Denver concept that Chris is apparently so pissed about (our words) is "the same concept Oskar Blues Fooderies opened in '97 and 2009 -- Homemade Liquids and Solids -- Oskar Blues Fooderies is just taking it to downtown Denver: 16th and market." In other words, it's the continuation of Fooderies' existing approach.
As for the exotic cars zinger: Chad pointed out that "from the time Dale started the restaurant in '97 on five maxed out credit cards, and had to sell his beat up Ford Ranger to make payroll every week and then buy it back after a good weekend at the restaurant -- I think everyone close to him knows that he likes American muscle cars, not exotic cars," Chad quipped.
But to the heart of the matter: "I'm not sure what from a supplier standpoint, Oskar Blues hasn't done" for Falling Rock to upset them, Chad said. To wit, we didn't see him outline anything to that end in his Facebook rant.