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Has Elon Musk ever heard of hard seltzer?
Plus: Heaven Hill strike-breaking, hot toddy takes, "Midwest sober" + more!
— Elon Musk wants to sell Tesla 'Giga Beer': Last year, union-buster, COVID-skeptic, and Tesla founder Elon Musk released a car-themed tequila in a bottle so stupid, it makes the Dan Aykroyd’s vodka skull look like Tommy Guns’ vodka AK-47. Or something. Naturally, Tesla Tequila sold out within hours at $250 a pop. Now, Musk has supposedly set his sights on beer, announcing plans on October 9th for an upcoming Giga Beer during a presentation at the electric vehicle firm’s under-construction Berlin plant, known as the Gigafactory. Elon, my guy, haven’t you heard? Nobody likes beer anymore! It’s all about hard seltzer, buddy! Whether Tesla actually intends to brew beer (or just contract it out, or simply not produce it at all) remains to be seen. But the company has registered trademarks for both “Giga Beer” and “Giga Bier” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on October 11th. Make of this what you will!
— Bourbon producer signals intent to hire replacement workers: 420 workers at Heaven Hill, one of the biggest bourbon distillers in the U.S., have been on strike for over 1.5 months. At issue are healthcare premiums and non-traditional work schedules, as Heaven Hill union steward Larry Newton told Fingers in a phone interview last month. It’s been a gnarly strike so far, as I detailed last week: the company has cut off workers’ health insurance, and last week a non-union trucker flipped his semi while making a “threatening gesture” at picketing Heaven Hill workers. Now, the firm says it’ll walk away from negotiations and begin hiring permanent, presumably non-union, replacements. Bold strategy in a historically tight labor market, Cotton. Fingers will hopefully have more reporting on the strike next week. Stay tuned.
— Never mind the brickbats, can BrewDog lure the City suits?: Under that gloriously British headline ran a story in The Telegraph (possible paywall) this week detailing the various, compounding predicaments the inglorious Scottish craft brewery is currently facing down. BrewDog’s workplace culture has been under scrutiny ever since dozens of former employees published an open letter earlier this year alleging it to be the “rotten” creation of cofounder and current chief executive James Watt. Its “golden can” marketing campaign was recently ruled “misleading” by the U.K.’s advertising watchdog. Worst of all for the “equity punk” investors who have funneled over $100 million into the company’s crowdfunding campaigns over the past decade, Watt now concedes that BrewDog will not IPO this year: “Could it be sometime in 2022? Maybe. 23? Maybe.” Meanwhile, TSG Consumer Partners’ sizable stake in the firm will continue to compound at 18%… and rank-and-file investors run greater risk of seeing their shares diluted to make the private-equity behemoth whole down the line. For more on BrewDog’s financial outlook, be sure to check out my July 2021 VinePair investigation.
— Cartoons Are Becoming the Beer Industry’s Best New Sales Tool: So sayeth writer Josh Bernstein in colorful SevenFiftyDaily item this week. But what about the explicit warning in the Beer Institute’s Advertising and Marketing Code that “cartoon characters” can be “advertising and marketing materials [that] appeal primarily to persons below the legal drinking age”? Unaddressed! Any booze lawyers reading this who care to weigh in on whether any of this is actionable? Shoot me an email, or:
— Why Don't Craft Beer Consumers Seem to Care?: On Wednesday, I published an essay about the craft brewing industry’s latest sexual harassment scandal at Mikkeller, arguing that worker-led organizing efforts, rather than top-down solutions (trainings, codes of conduct, promises to “do better”) will secure better conditions for the industry’s marginalized workers. At Hugging The Bar, Courtney Iseman looked at the same issue from a different angle, exploring why the vast majority of drinkers keep buying beer from breweries that treat their workers like shit. I’ll have more thoughts on this in a future edition, but for now, I think Iseman’s piece is a good counterpart (counterpoint?) to mine, and reinforces my conviction that worker power is the only path to real progress in the craft beer business. (And, you know, every other business, too.)
— Against Hot Toddies: My pal Maya Kosoff did a good and correct blog on the autumnal scourge of warm whiskey drinks. A hot take on hot toddies, if you will. (Please do.) As someone who has written good and correct blogs on bad beverages in the past, I of course approve.
📬 Good post alert
🔝 This week’s top comment
Friend of Fingers Julie Rhodes shared some smart thoughts in response to my column Wednesday arguing that worker power is the best/most viable corrective to the craft brewing industry’s ills. Her comments are lengthy, so I encourage you to read them in full. But I think this sentiment in particular was worth highlighting as an optimistic contrast to my more glass-half-empty perspective (emphasis mine):
IMO, if you pull back the curtain, it's not status quo. CEOs have been removed, boards have been evicted, managers fired, teams reworked - there are more companies now in our industry with codes of conduct than I have ever seen in my decade-plus career in this industry. But is our work done? Absolutely f-ing not.
When a disruptive, public reckoning ensues, whether it's race or gender-focused, humans have an inherent action bias that drives us to want to see immediate, swift action on a grand scale (watershed), but true organizational and cultural change doesn't happen that quickly. I do think the small actions being taken by organizations are helping, they just aren't juicy enough for social media, but that doesn't discount the amount of harm they are preventing for thousands of workers in our industry, and every small action is an improvement over the old system
Good stuff, Julie Rhodes! I love that Friends of Fingers have divergent, informed views on the labor and cultural issues facing the beverage alcohol business, and I’m proud to be building a community where people can express real disagreements without immediately devolving into a psychotic, Facebook-style cesspool of bad faith. In the future, Fingers discussion threads will be for paying subscribers only, so if you haven’t yet, please consider purchasing a subscription to support this project:
Today is your last day to get 25% off Fingers for a whole year. I won’t be offering another discount of that size for the foreseeable future, so if you’ve been on the fence about buying a subscription, now’s the best time to do it!
Surely shocked by the conspicuous lack of Rebel IPA at their local 7-Eleven lately, the Fingers Fam double-tapped this meme more than any other posted to the boozeletter’s official Instagram in the past seven days. [Disclosure: I bought Boston Beer Company stock in September 2021, and it’s only gone down ever since lmaoooooo.]
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