Let's ask more juries about hard seltzer
Plus: Bang Energy’s board is coming for @BangEnergy.CEO
Remember last week when I said that the federal contract trial between Constellation Brands and Anheuser-Busch InBev over the legal definition of hard seltzer was way less fun than I expected it to be? I was wrong. So, so wrong. Because! Just yesterday, eight jurors for the Southern District of New York took no time flat to return a shocking upset verdict in Constellation’s favor, ruling that its Corona hard seltzer (which is brewed with fermented sugar) is in fact beer, and therefore does not constitute a breach of the firm’s licensing agreement to make and market ABI’s Grupo Modelo beer brands in the United States. Nobody thought it was going to shake out this way! Justice is blind, more like blind drunk, amirite?! I need at least 100 more jury trials about esoteric and technical matters of alcohol production, pronto.
“In what is undoubtedly a surprise to many observers and even many of the participants, the 8-person jury released its verdict in favor of Constellation reportedly in about an hour and before noon,” wrote Beer Marketer’s Insight, which has been all over trial for the past two weeks. Undoubtedly! Indubitably! I haven’t been this shocked about the outcome of an industry lawsuit since last year, when a jury awarded Stone Brewing Company won a staggering $56 million against Molson Coors over Keystone Light’s branding and then promptly sold itself to Sapporo. (That part was less shocking given the San Diego brewery’s looming mountains of debt.)
God, imagine being ABI right now. Not only did you just get absolutely sonned in federal court despite having a stronger argument than the one-time charity case to which you spun off Corona et al. in 2013 to get the Department of Justice’s green-light on your acquisition of Grupo Modelo, thinking the then-small wine-and-spirits firm posed no threat. That’s rough. But what makes it so much worse is that ABI just launched a big new ad campaign for Bud Light Seltzer with the sole purpose of convincing the American drinking public that it’s different than Bud Light (the beer), because everybody apparently still assumes they’re the same thing even after the former has been on the market for three years. Couldn’t convince a jury, can’t convince your customers… just a tough March all around for your friendly neighborhood international brewing conglomerate, folks.
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🏳️⚧️ The culture war at the taproom door rages on
A few months ago I filed this column with VinePair about right-wing operatives and their transphobic fellow travelers targeting craft breweries with coordinated harassment and physical violence for hosting drag-themed reading hours and brunches. My argument was two-pronged:
This is going to keep happening.
Breweries that market themselves as progressive, inclusive spaces either need to get serious about training and security, or stop marketing themselves that way, because the rubber is meeting the road.
Unfortunately, I was right to expect more of these incidents. Last week, Heathen Brewing in Vancouver, Washington and Castle Island Brewing Co. in the greater Boston area both received an onslaught of threats over drag events. The former had to close briefly because someone smashed their taproom windows in an apparent reaction to an upcoming charity brunch; the latter received a deluge of online harassment after Libs of TikTok, a notorious far-right social-media project that peddles gay/trans ragebait and provokes America’s Facebook uncles to call in bomb threats on children’s hospitals (allegedly), posted about one of its scheduled shows.
Thankfully, no one was hurt in either instance, and credit to both breweries for not canceling their events and seeming to handle the aftermath pretty well. (“Grow up. This is totally unreasonable action whether for vandalism or whatever your cause," Heathen’s owner told the local news station.) Good for them! But there are over 9,000 breweries across the country, and anecdotally, a whole bunch of them program drag events and claim to be allies of marginalized communities. How many of them are ready for to face the consequences? My thinking on this is basically like, it’d be disappointing and gross for a brewery to walk back its support for the LGBTQ+ community to avoid conflict with extremists, but it’d be worse for owners who aren’t actually ready for this fight to put rank-and-file drinkers and workers in harm’s way without a plan to keep them safe. I hope craft breweries that have flown rainbow flags and brewed cause beers for years are paying attention and preparing accordingly. And if you’re a taproom employee whose owners aren’t taking this situation seriously: queer nightlife workers are already organizing to protect themselves, their customers, and their performers on the job. You can too.
😔 Bang Energy’s board is coming for @BangEnergy.CEO
Last week, I published a rare Fingers Breaking-News Boozeletter™️ to mark for posterity/cathartically grieve the unceremonious ouster of Jack Owoc, the founder/poster-in-chief of Bang Energy by the board of directors Vital Pharmaceuticals (VPX), the brand’s parent company. Dear reader, I regret to inform you, our national nightmare continues apace. As part of the looming Bang-ruptcy auction, set to commence April 27th, VPX—also founded by Neon Jack back in 1993—has filed an emergency restraining order to stop its former fearless leader from posting to any of his wildly popular @bangenergy.ceo social media accounts.
*extremely The Grinch voice* The impudence! The audacity! The unmitigated gall! But it’s true: