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Booze, Boomers, and bullshit: welcome to grifting's Barrel Age
The twisted saga of $13 Millionaire's Vinegar, Stone's Sapporo sellout + more!
#️⃣ Digits: Bilking Boomers with bunk booze
Anna Sorokin (née Delvey) went from “fake heiress” to media darling to Netflix flop. Fyre Festival’s Billy McFarland went to prison; Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes may be headed there. WeWork did not work, Ozy Media melted down, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos turned out to be a flamin’ hot lie. All around us, the evidence is piling up: The Golden Age of Grifting is coming to an end. Somebody forgot to let Casey Alexander know. The British national was arrested by the FBI on Tuesday and faces federal criminal charges for selling 150+ American seniors…
$13 million worth of fraudulent investments in rare wine & whiskey
...just $250,000 of which has been clawed back so far. The scheme involved British accents (some real, some fake), cold calls from a trio of interrelated LLCs, and promises of 100% returns on three-year buy-ins. It’s not clear whether the booze ever actually existed—according to an affidavit, Alexander and co. allegedly marks that the bottles and barrels were being held in “a warehouse in Britain, while they accrued value,” an extremely specific description that demands no further inquiry, thank you very much!—but it is clear that the scammers targeted agéd Americans aggressively. It was the son of an 89 year-old Ohio man who tipped off the feds after discovering his dad was in the drink for $300,000; another 73 year-old from Michigan got got for $85,000 on the promise of 35-40% returns. Awful, awful stuff. Cleveland.com reports that the hooch hucksters also “dangled the promise of a high-end party for investors in Scotland if they invested more money,” which is different from the dubious perks BrewDog offered prospective Equity for Punk investors in ways I haven’t quite sorted out yet.
Anyway! What this cruel grift lacks in Billionaire’s Vinegar-style international intrigue and technical sophistication, it makes up for in spades with… wait for it… web3 use cases, baby!!! *ducks for cover* OK, OK, I’m mostly kidding, but there are a few blockchain-oriented firms trying to bring “code is law” to the lucrative, chicanerous market of high-end alcohol. Could NFTs actually fix the growing problem of elder fraud as America’s Boomers go gray? I have no idea, but fugazi high-end bourbon and Bordeaux are on the rise, so it’s an actual problem in search of a solution. How novel! Let’s ask The Grifter Formerly Known as Delvey—she’s slinging tokens now. Forget Golden: Barrel Age of Grifting, here we come!
📬 Good post(s) alert
Thank you to Friend of Fingers Joe Keohane, author of The Power of Strangers, for sending me these good posts. See a good post that the Fingers Fam should know about? Please send me that good post via email or Twitter DM.
💻 It’s not selling out if you post hard enough: Stone cofounder
Stone Brewing Company, a San Diego-based standard-bearer for the second-wave craft beer boom with an itchy litigation finger and an edgelord’s habit for bluster & self-aggrandizement, has announced its imminent acquisition by Sapporo Holdings, a Japanese conglomerate. Considering the firm’s sales struggles and massive private-equity debts soon coming due, selling out is a smart move. Given that Stone was the ninth-largest craft brewer by volume in 2021 according to the Brewers Association, its corporatization is another dagger to the craft “movement” (to the extent that it exists today, or ever did.)
But it’s also a cautionary tale about the limitations of rigid ideological shitposting as corporate strategy. Stone cofounder Greg Koch was one of the most polarizing craft-brewing figures of his era owing to his loud contempt for corporate brewers, their beer, and the craft outfits they acquired. His widely broadcasted self-righteousness about maintaining his firm’s independence no matter what induced many an eye-roll throughout the industry over the years, and now that Stone has thrown in with a macrobrewer itself, critics are—rightly—pointing out his hypocrisy. (See a representative curation above via Brew York’s Chris O’Leary.) No dummy, Koch anticipated these critiques in a 2,429-word blog post timed to the late-breaking announcement. Interspersed with quotes from/references to everything from Metallica and Heraclitus, to Castaway and Stripes, to thinkbois like "end of history" shrink Daniel Gilbert and podcast-preneur Seth Godin. It’s a trip, man.
Rather than serve Koch any more slices of humble pie, your fearless Fingers editor is more interested in parsing the labor implications of this tie-up, which should close in August. Stone CEO Maria Stipp told Brewbound managing editor Jess Infante that she has no plans to eliminate jobs, and may wind up actually hiring more workers instead. That would be good news for Stone’s employees, who reportedly found out that their brewery was being sold to an international corporation at 11pm PST Thursday evening. We’ll see! In the meantime, one more wrinkle to consider: after acquiring San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company in 2017, Sapporo faced a union drive from that outfit’s workers, who ultimately won out against a pressure campaign and voted to be represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in early 2020. The ILWU has deep influence up and down the West Coast, where much of Stone’s workforce is located, and hands-on experience organizing at a Sapporo-owned brewery. If there are Stone workers feeling conned by Koch & co.’s about-face on the vitality of independence in craft brewing… well, all I’m saying is that they’ve got some colleagues in the Bay Area who would probably be glad to take their calls.
🧾 The Settle-Up
Bonus: Kate Bernot (Good Beer Hunting, Craft Beer & Brewing), Jess Infante (Brewbound), and I discussing some of these headlines on our most recent Twitter Spaces session of Beer Byliners. Listen here:
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