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Don't rain-make 50 Cent
Plus: Yellowstoning the Pappy-plus-crappy ranks!
Former Anchor employees are stuck in liquidation limbo. The iconic San Francisco brewery is now in liquidators’ hands, and the “assignment for the benefit of creditors” process is underway, but the workers behind the newly incorporated Anchor SF Cooperative say that they’ve been denied key financial information about the firm that other prospective buyers have already accessed. My column this week at VinePair has the full update.
The Teamsters: surging. Anheuser-Busch InBev: stumbling. Contract negotiations: off and running. This past week, one of the country’s biggest labor unions opened bargaining for a new contract for the 5,000-ish American workers it reps at the world’s biggest brewer. Given, y’know *gestures in the general direction of Bud Light’s 30% sales slide* the timing is simply not ideal for ABI. By contrast, the Teamsters are carrying a ton of momentum into the proceedings from their big renegotiation win against UPS this summer1, and emphatically Feeling Themselves. “Teamsters having been picking up the tab for this company for too long,” said director of the union’s Brewery, Bakery, and Soft Drink Conference Jeff Padellaro in a statement marking the contract negotiation kickoff last week. “To Anheuser-Busch we say, ‘The next round is on you.’” I’m interviewing Padellaro next week on the Teamsters’ goals and strategy against ABI, stay tuned for more on this soon.
Tilray is still on the hook in SweetWater’s trout-logo copyright dispute. Ahem. The Canadian cannabis conglomerate started its ongoing craft brewing buying spree by scooping up the Georgia firm in 2020 for $300 million. In 2021, SweetWater’s former graphic designer sued for $31 million, alleging the brewery and its well-funded weed parent co. had violated the ownership he’d retained on the rainbow trout logo he created and licensed to the brewery in 1996. SweetWater has been trying to get the case dismissed for awhile now, but this past week a federal judge in Atlanta ruled that SweetWater’s snap-filing of a competing copyright claim “shortly after Mr. Fuss [the designer] and Mr. Bensch's [SweetWater founder and chief executive] November 10, 2020 text message exchange provide further indicia of intent to mislead.” In other words: fishy!
The feds are sending millions in wildfire funding to the most important wine region in the country. In late August, Napa County announced it’d received a $37.5 million federal Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant to help boost resiliency agains the wildfires that have ravaged the region. The Drinks Business reported this past week that the nonprofit trade group Napa Valley Vintners was “instrumental” in securing the grant for the county, which is matching 25% of the grant out of its own coffers. The producers’ imperative is obvious: in 2020 wildfires cost Napa’s wine industry some $2 billion (as tabulated by the trade group, at least.) But there’s probably a point at which the climate crisis makes places like the United States’ most expensive wine destination hostile to agriculture and the people that do it, right? Is “managed retreat” from beloved, historic, and lucrative winemaking regions a thing the industry is sincerely grappling with, and I just don’t know about it? (This is a serious question.)
Another country music star is moving into liquor. Following genre heavyweights like Eric Church and Florida-Georgia Line into the brown-liquor licensing lane, “Tennessee Whiskey” singer Chris Stapleton this past week announced an upcoming white-label brand, Traveller Whiskey, with Kentucky whiskey outfit Buffalo Trace. The distillery, owned by Pappy-plus-crappy purveyor Sazerac Company, has run successful product placements in Yellowstone in the past, and this strikes me as a smart way to take another run at a similar demo with a strong media partner (Stapleton has two million Instagram followers) and a slightly differentiated set o’ SKUs. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, suggesting in all likelihood this is just a check for Stapleton, though Whiskey Raiders’ Cynthia Mersten reports that the Traveller label submitted to the TTB claims the musician sampled 50-plus blends before selecting the one that will hit shelves next year. That’s nice, moving on.
Starting to think 50 Cent’s former liquor consultants may not have been entirely on the level, you guys. It’s been a few weeks since we last checked in on the hot mess a-swirlin’ around Curtis Jackson’s Sire Spirits, and folks, it brings me
no pleasure to report that the mess is hotter than ever. (Actually, Law360 has been doing the reporting, and well, but they’re too professional to put it that way.) In late August, a Manhattan judge declined to dismiss the rapper’s core allegation that one-time Beam Suntory contractor Michael Caruso and former Beam Suntory chief commercial officer Julious Grant had conspired to get now-fired Sire brand manager Mitchell Green hired so they could skim inflated fees from the Jackson’s firm’s Champagne and Cognac sales. They rain-made him! (Sort of. Allegedly.) And just this past week, Green pleaded guilty in New Jersey court to defrauding Sire for $2.2 million in the scheme, and a Connecticut judge ruled that despite filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy, he was still on the hook for an additional $6.96 million arbitration ruling in a New York arbitration and civil proceeding from earlier this year.
Instacart went public, and it went dece to sub-dece. The pandemic grocery-delivery darling debuted this past week on the NASDAQ with a valuation of $10 billion on a $30 share price. It spiked a bit briefly, then gave it all back and ended the week trading right around $30.2 That would be fine if it wasn’t a publicly traded company that always has to grow, but it is now lol, so analysts were mildly negative on the gig-worker exploitation machine’s first week in the market.
Aldi and DoorDash are partnering on booze delivery. I’ve got some coordinated coverage coming soon withof the vital restaurant-tech newsletter on the third-party delivery giant’s adventures in beverage-alcohol fulfillment, so for now I’ll just mark it here that last week the firm announced it had teamed up with the cut-rate German grocer so that its “Dashers” (also gig workers, also exploited, etc.) can now hump its
💬 BUZZWORDS OF THE WEEK
The rule of thumb for pitching the guy who does an annual gift guide of all the dumbest shit for sale in the beverage-alcohol consumermatic universe is: maybe don’t? But rules were meant to be broken, and thumbs aren’t even really Fingers, when you think about it, so naturally I’m already getting holiday gift-guide pitches. Fuck yeah, spread it on, my dear publicists! But be respectful, wouldja? Don’t just barge into my inbox hawking sustainable whiskey stones or obscenely expensive decanters shaped like poultry all willy-nilly. Ask me if I’m right headspace to receive information that could possibly hurt me. Like this:
Might you be in holiday territory yet?
I unironically love the delicacy here, but for the record, I am not. I haven’t even hacked my way through Halloween yet, and you don’t want my holiday coverage anyway, I assure you.
If you see beverage-alcohol corporatespeak in the wild that deserves to be the next Fingers Buzzword, submit it for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions anonymous!
🔗 VIRGIN LINKS
The Teamsters’ UPS contract is biggest in this nation’s private sector, covering some 300,000 workers. The 2023 contract, hammered out under credible threat of a massive strike, isn’t perfect, but it’s an unambiguous victory.
Interesting aside: Albertson’s, the supermarket chain currently trying to muscle a nakedly anticompetitive $24 billion acquisition by rival Kroger over the FTC finish line, had a pre-IPO position in Instacart that it stood to net $80 million on. Other major grocers, including Kroger itself and (for a time) Whole Foods, did too. This is the economy, to me.