Kids [Do/Don't] Belong in a Brewery

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Just to be clear, I'm more or less agnostic on the question of whether kids belong in a brewery.  

I sympathize with those who say, "look, I always have a DD with me, and the brewery says kids are welcome, so I'm bringing mine."

I understand those who say, "look, it's an adult setting, and there are just places where kids don't really belong."

I concur with those who say, "it's up the the brewery - if they say it's OK, then it's OK."

And I believe that lots of these groups are having the discussion in entirely unproductive ways.  This week, I'm not going to wade into the question of whether you can/should/will bring your kids to a brewery.  I'm also not going to opine on my personal reaction to kids in a brewery.  Neither of those are productive.  Instead, I'd like to suggest some other dimensions of this to consider that might lead to a more-nuanced evaluation of this question.

I don't really care - but if this is going to come up once every 13.2 days in every beer group I belong to, then the least we can do is try to discuss it well.

What Is a Brewery?

This is my principal question, and I think that it goes a long way towards understanding the fundamental disagreement.  What is a brewery?

"A place they make beer, alehole."

Yeah, I get that.  But what is it, in the context of a place to consume alcohol?  Is it a bar?  Is it a restaurant?  Is it like the tasting room at a winery?  Is it an event space?  Because each of those activates its own norms - some of which are child-friendly, some of which aren't.

Kids are welcome in (most) restaurants.  Is a brewery a restaurant?  No, not really, even if it serves food.  It's still a place where the primary function is to produce, then sell for consumption, beer.  If you come down on the "it's not a restaurant" side, then you're probably less kid-brewery-tolerant (KBT, from now on).  However, it seems to be the case that many people use breweries as restaurants.  So if you think of a brewery as a de facto restaurant, then kids might be OK, if the proprietors deem it so.

Kids aren't welcome in (most) bars.  Is a brewery a bar?  Not exactly.  It probably has a cleaner claim to being a bar than a restaurant, but it's also not purely a drinking establishment as much as it is a beer retailing location.  All the same, many people use breweries as bars - some have some pretty excellent seating and/or entertainment options, and they can definitely fill up on a Friday night.  So if you think of a brewery as a de facto bar, then the KBT probability is going to be markedly lower.

This bar/restaurant determination might be a productive dichotomy.  It is, however, also conditional, both in practice and in perception.  A brewery tasting room at 2PM on a Saturday is far less likely to be a bar than the same tasting room at a "Movie Night" event at 8PM on a Friday.  And, for that matter, folks might care a lot less about a kid in a place - even one they consider a bar - on a Monday at noon than a Saturday after dark.  

So, in having this debate, we have at least two crucial questions:

1. Is it a bar?
2. When is it OK to have your kid in a bar?

  A Simple Standard

Then there's the omnipresent talking point over child behavior.  

"I came to the brewery to relax and have a beer - not to deal with your kid running around and screaming."

This one, in my mind, is the easiest to address.  How's this for a standard: 

If it applies to a drunk, it applies to your child.

If a drunk is running around and knocking things over, do we kick him/her out?  Yes.  Same for your kid.

If a drunk is yelling or crying, do we kick him/her out?  Yes.  Same for your kid.

If a drunk is unsupervised and decides to pee on the wall, do we kick him/her out?  Yes.  Same for your kid.

Now, that simple standard holds up just fine for obvious cases.  If it's your aunt who can't hold her booze doing it, or your kid, the same sanction applies.  What about the others, though?  A zero-tolerance case of a single cry or tipped glass seems overly-harsh.

I don't have an answer on that one.  Kids are kids.  Even when well-supervised, they can cause disruption or distraction.  

I think it might be time for...

Vote With Your Wallet

The free market shouldn't decide everything.  I don't care how hip of a parent you are, if you have a child at a 10PM screening of Pulp Fiction at your local brewery, then I'm 100% going to be judging the absolute s*** out of you, and no matter how well-behaved your child is, you really need to be elsewhere.

For lots of things, though, the Invisible Hand of the Marketplace is a perfectly reasonable mechanism to sort out just how KBT a place should be.  

I read a story recently that bars and breweries were increasingly the scene of child birthday parties.  Now, if I were to walk into just about any brewery in the world to see 25 strollers, balloons, and a horde of toddlers, I have news for you: I'm out of there.

But the establishment in question knows that, and has decided that my money walking out is less valuable to them than the parents' money walking in.  If they find that's not the case, then they'll switch up their policy.  And that's fine.

And you're also free to let the brewery know that because of their high KBT level (that's "Kid Brewery Tolerance," for those who have forgotten), you're going to go elsewhere.  Let your voice be heard.

A Marketing Venue

The reason this is complicated is because there's no real answer to the question "What is a brewery?"  Or, rather, there is, it's just not helpful: a brewery tap room, tasting room, beer hall, or whatever it is they serve their beer inside is really a marketing device.  It's just a venue to help establish a look, feel, public impression of the brewery.  Yes, taproom sales can equal that of a bar; yes, many offer food service; yes, they also feature events; yes, they are sometimes open late into the evenings; yes, they are often open for lunch; yes, they sometimes have family-friendly events and equipment and areas. 

They're different, and they're flexible, because their marketing function is universal but multifaceted.

I don't have kids.  If I did, I don't know if I'd bring them with me to a brewery.  When I see kids at a brewery, I don't generally care unless they're breaking the "If Your Drunk Aunt Kathy Did It What Would You Do" rules established earlier, or if it's Tarantino Night.  

I'm not here to weigh in on whether you should bring them, or how you should react if someone does.  Your kids [do/don't] belong in a brewery. 

I'm just trying to help the conversation along.

Keep it simple.

JJW

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Tariffs and the Politics of Craft Beer

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It isn't often that my professional life as a political scientist and my beer life come into contact, but this last week brought them together in an unfortunate way: get ready for some hot tariffs talk.

Tariffs: A Primer

Tariffs, simply put, are a tax levied on trade goods - in this case, imports.  They have a long and complicated history (including why the Constitution mandates that we can only tax imports and not exports), but the most common use of tariffs is in response to unfair trade practices.  Usually, we're talking about dumping.

"Dumping" is when a country's manufacturers export a product and sell it at a deliberately low price to undercut the market and drive competitors out of business.  This predatory pricing approach makes it impossible for domestic (or other foreign) producers in the target market to stay profitable, and if the foreign company is willing to take the loss in the short term, they can eventually bring prices back up when they become the last company standing - they're paying a short-term cost to create a monopoly later.  In response, the targeted nation can impose tariffs as a defensive/protectionist mechanism.  Tariffs artificially increase the price of imported goods.  This acts to protect domestic industries from dumping.  Simple, right?

In this case, the argument goes, cheap steel and aluminum are making it hard for American metal producers to stay in business, since labor costs tend to be higher in the US.  We want to protect American metal manufacturers and their employees.  

There's a healthy argument to be had about whether the largest metal exporters to the US engage in dumping, but the preponderance of economists' opinions is that it's a very minor concern (after all, our largest metal-import customer is Canada, which has similar market conditions to work with).  

Politics aside, though, why do we care?  Because this would have a substantial impact on craft beer, in particular.

The Craft Case Against Tariffs - it's not just cans

A major problem here is that, more and more, craft beer is being packaged, shipped, and served in cans.  

"But aren't nearly all cans made in the USA?  This wouldn't affect 98% of them!"

Yes, they are.  But the materials they're made from are often not from the US - they're imported and then worked here, which means these tariffs will hit them squarely in the...can.

"OK, but how much?  I mean, we're only talking like one cent per can."

Yes, we are.  And that's enough.  Craft breweries are already operating on a very tight profit margin, and even incremental cost increases are going to hurt.  Not only that, but it's already problematic (from a sales/marketing perspective) that craft beer costs substantially more than macro beer.  If a 30-pack of a macro lite lager increases in cost by a penny a can, the global beer companies can absorb that cost simply by virtue of their overall size, or if they pass it on they have the pricing "room" to do so.  Not only can the small craft brewer not absorb that cost, increasing prices to account for it will end up exacerbating the price disparity and driving the sticker price higher.  

Then there are the secondary and tertiary effects.  The prevailing wisdom - which may not be accurate, but which is historically consistent and logical - is that other countries will retaliate by imposing tariffs on American products, most notably (because we grow food like nobody's business) agricultural products.  A tightening market for agricultural goods will have mixed effects, of course, but it will almost certainly hit barley and wheat and other grains, which will have downstream effects on beer ingredient costs.  I don't think hops will be much affected, but it's not a slam-dunk that they won't.  

This isn't just about cans.

Cost/Benefit

It's not at all likely that this action - assuming it is fully implemented and not remedied by the US Congress - will actually result in anything good in the US or global economy.  Industries that rely on aluminum and steel have lost jobs when this has been attempted in the past - to the tune of about five jobs lost to every one saved in the steel industry (directly - indirect effects can eliminate or reduce wages in up to 200 jobs for every one saved).  And let's not forget that the only real function of a tariff is to increase costs.  No one wins a trade war.  In the face of obvious dumping, targeted tariffs can meet a real need, but these are universal.  Metal costs are rising in the US.  It's unavoidable.  Which means that even if we save a few jobs, the benefits will accrue to only those few individuals, while the costs will be shared out collectively in higher prices on almost everything made with steel or aluminum.

And craft breweries will be caught in a bad, bad spot as a result.  They can't just suddenly pivot to something else - back to bottles, right? - because a) it's not that simple, and b) even if they could it would increase lots of other costs since glass is both breakable and a heavier-weight item.

Will this hurt the big breweries, too?  Yes, but they can take the punch better than your average microbrewery.  A corporation that runs at a loss (or a smaller profit margin) for a quarter or two might see a slight decline in its stock price; a local brewery in the same boat might be driven under.

Ideology and partisan identification aside, if you enjoy craft beer, you should be calling, e-mailing, and writing to your representatives to oppose this action.  The costs far outweigh the benefits overall, and are potentially lethal to craft brewers.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).