Craft brewer blows whistle, gets own distributor in trouble

The Massachusetts craft beer ‘pay to play’ scandal has seen its first charges filed.
The Massachusetts craft beer ‘pay to play’ scandal has seen its first charges filed. –Michael Tonsmeire

Dann Paquette, the co-owner of local craft brewery Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, took to Twitter last fall to blow the whistle on his own industry.

Paquette decried “pay to play’’ practices, in which bars take either cash or freebies from brewers or beer distributors in exchange for putting their beer on tap. He said the practice was keeping his beers out of bars. The tweets caused a stir, and a day after he typed them, The Boston Globe reported that the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission had begun investigating what Paquette described as a common practice across the state.

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Paquette’s October tweets focused largely on the role of bars and restaurants in these arrangements. But it takes two to tango, with the second partner being either a brewer or a distributor. And how’s this for irony: The ABCC has accused Paquette’s own distributor of tangoing.

Craft Beer Guild in Everett, a big Massachusetts beer distributor whose wide portfolio includes Pretty Things, will face the ABCC in June to determine whether it paid or otherwise induced bars for tapline placement. While the company is accused of violating rules prohibiting the practice, there aren’t any details about how it did so or with what beers.

Martha Holley-Paquette, the co-owner of Pretty Things and Dann Paquette’s wife, confirmed to Boston.com that Craft Beer Guild is their distributor. Pretty Things has had no involvement in the state investigation, she said in an email.

“We have no idea who is and is not specifically responsible for engaging in pay to play,’’ she said. “It was and is our belief that the practice is pervasive in our industry in many states, involving breweries, bars, restaurants, liquor stores and distributors.’’

So, if the charges brought against Craft Beer Guild are found to be true, what’s the feeling out of Pretty Things? Disappointment? Surprise? Neither? After all, Paquette’s complaint was that the practice was widespread, so maybe it makes sense that the resulting investigation would hit close to home.

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Holley-Paquette declined to say how she and her husband would feel if the accusations are proven true, or how such a finding would affect their relationship with their distributor. “We aren’t interested in speaking hypothetically,’’ she said.

In addition to Pretty Things, Craft Beer Guild’s expansive list of beers it distributes includes Brooklyn, Allagash, Smuttynose, Abita, Yuengling, Mayflower, and many more local and national craft brews. The company did not comment for this article, but Beer Distributors of Massachusetts, the trade group representing the industry, issued a statement on its behalf, focusing on due process for the charges.

“Full cooperation has been provided to the ABCC investigation, and we look forward to a full and fair process to be administered by the commission. The ABCC’s process is the appropriate venue in which to address this issue,’’ the statement read.

Craft Beer Guild will face the ABCC on June 23. The ABCC’s investigation is ongoing, and it remains to be seen whether other companies will face similar accusations.

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