Even rock and roll can be commoditized. Just ask Beer Voltron. Being a metaphorical robot of ever increasing proportion, programmed with an insatiable thirst for wealth and control, Beer Voltron (a.k.a. Anheuser-Busch InBev) has one prime directive — to make money. It will stop at nothing to do so — even using the things you love — America, football and (now) the sacred spirit of rock and roll. Cue a weepy guitar jam; let’s use Prince to make it poignant.
According to an excellent article on Seattle Weekly (a great alt tab), AB InBev has been charged with “undue influence” on the Showbox, Showbox SoDo and Marymoor Park. These are three music venues in Seattle owned and operated by AEG Live NW, with food and drink services provided by Wolfgang Puck Catering. Apparently, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) performed an undercover investigation of these rock halls and found they only sold AB InBev products (that’s not illegal though, right?). On further inspection, the LCB found that the local distributor had entered into sponsorship contracts at the venues to achieve a monopoly (ah, that’s pretty illegal).
Based on its findings, the state has fined AB InBev $150,000. The case will be heard by an administrative judge sometime this summer. According to Seattle Weekly:
“We are looking into a lot of these practices. This is a nationwide issue. Our director has gone to several states just to talk about these problems,” says Jennifer Dzubay, a commander in the LCB’s enforcement division. “Are we seeing it? Yes. I think it’s becoming more prevalent everywhere in the United States.”
How is Beer Voltron accomplishing this? Let’s break it down into an easy four step process that we can all remember. No. 1: AB InBev buys up craft beer brands (Goose Island, Elysian, Blue Point, Breckenridge, etc., etc.). No. 2: It buys up distributors or it “buys” them by actually incentivizing the 500-some wholesalers it doesn’t “own.” No. 3: It instructs those distributors to sell its craft brands first and foremost. No. 4: It bullies or buys the beer-selling venue with its portfolio of both classic Budweiser products and its new craft offerings to ensure the menu looks like it’s credible. Example: The music venues mentioned above had craft brands, they just happened to be the likes of Goose Island, 10 Barrel and Elysian.
Most Americans just don’t the know difference. Hell, the LCB hardly knows the difference. From Seattle Weekly:
“With the big guys buying all the brands, it is hard to tell” when a single brewer takes over a bar, said Brian Smith, spokesman for the LCB. Regarding AB’s monopoly at the Showbox, “I wouldn’t know, and I drink beer.”
According to the LCB complaint, in addition to the documentation provided by the undercover officers at the Overkill show [a band in the story, read about the entire sting here], managers at the Showbox admitted that AB had exclusive access to its bars.
What? Holy hell, I think it’s your job to know these things.