The following post is a collaboration between DCBeer.com Staff Writers Jake Berg and Nick Rakowski:
Since 2008, the Brewer’s Association has hosted one its signature events in the District – SAVOR. It was never billed as a festival – it was a craft beer and food experience. It was premier. It was different. It was a no-holds barred bacchanalian celebration of the righteous impact craft beer, when sipped alone or paired with food, has on both the senses and the community. It was an all-out assault on the palate and, at $135 a ticket before add-on “salons,” the wallet to boot. Simply put, it was one of the highest points for craft beer revelry in this town, or any town for that matter.
And then they moved it to New York City.
“But, but…they had reasons,” you defiantly say, having read the title of this article and likely knowing where this is going. Yes, we know they made the move for just this one year, clearly stipulating that SAVOR will return to the District in 2014. Yes, they also based their decision on the fact that the Craft Brewers Conference, another one of ‘Murica’s signature beer events, was occurring in DC in March.
These reasons are completely valid and, in fact, the general feeling among the #DCBrews community, as least as far as we could tell, was, “Ok… we get CBC and as long as SAVOR comes back later, that’s cool, bro” [maybe sans the bro, but being too literal is clown blogging, bro]. In fact, a fair number of DC beer enthusiasts vowed to make the trek up to our northerly neighboring city to continue to enjoy the good times SAVOR brings to bear.
Of course, that was before they released the price. Coming in around $135, SAVOR ticket prices in DC were always high, but when the event was moved to New York City, the price climbed $35 to a sky-high $170 per ticket, before salons. Still, one would think that, for an event that sold out in fewer than 15 minutes last year, the increased price would not be so insurmountable as to deny the Brewer’s Association the full house they expected.
Much to the BA’s surprise and likely chagrin, we imagine, the sell out did not happen. In fact, as we write this, general admission tickets to the event (and many salons) are still available. This begs the rather simple question: what happened?
Surely the price plays into the entire situation; however, New York City is a more expensive town, particularly for a venue that can support the size of an event like SAVOR. You’d be silly not to expect a bump in price to support what must be a greater cost for the organizers. But to move from a 15 minute sell out to widespread ticket availability with less than a week to go? That's a bit of a stretch. In fact, a quick search on StubHub shows that tickets to SAVOR-NYC are cheaper for DC residents (including bus fare), than SAVOR-DC tickets were for DC residents last year – some as low as $44. Meanwhile, last month’s Manhattan Cocktail Classic, with room for 2,900 attendees and ticket prices between $195 and $395, sold out quickly. There must be something deeper in play here.
The Brewer’s Association is filled with thoughtful, passionate people – of course they wouldn’t make the move without thinking through the many consequences of their decision. One thing they didn’t seem to notice, however, despite all of their best intentions is this:
New York City is not a beer town.
Now don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying that New York doesn’t have great beer, and isn’t a good place to drink that beer. We’re just saying that New York is a wine and cocktail town, not a beer town. Philly? Beer town. Boston? Beer town. Baltimore? Beer town. DC? Yep, even us. Portland, Maine and Richmond, Virginia? Also beer towns. The evidence against New York, including being unable to sell out SAVOR, is damning.
The events: SAVOR week in DC has become as important and as varied as the event itself, with breweries bringing in their best from all over the country, taking advantage of DC’s “grey laws” that allow stores, bars, and restaurants to self-import. Meanwhile, SAVOR week in New York consists of this. No doubt there are some great beers, from great breweries, being poured at those events, but there’s also nothing out of the ordinary about the far majority of these events. Round here, and even in New York, we call this “Tuesday.”
The beer: The dirty little secret about New York City is that it’s expensive. How expensive? This expensive.
Upper East Side, Manhattan – $1,600 per month
Via The Worst Room
This results in many breweries who claim to be in New York City, but brew elsewhere. Brooklyn Lager and other flagships? Utica, New York, home of the steamed ham. Sixpoint’s cans? Scranton, Pennsylvania (see below). Bronx Brewery’s many pale ales? Pawcatuk, Connecticut. The only major New York City brewery that doesn’t do some contracting is Kelso, which has enough capacity that it has contract brewed for Sixpoint. Take a bow. (For the record, we at DCBeer.com understand that New York City breweries produce much of their beer elsewhere to keep costs down).
Meanwhile, every brewery in DC makes all their beer in DC. Novel concept, fellas.
The media: The New York Times calls its food section “Dining and Wine.” That’s telling. Just as telling, they (still!) don’t have a dedicated beer writer on staff. Occasionally someone writes about beer for the Times, and the effect is… well, “bless their hearts.”
And it’s not as if New York doesn’t have good beer writers. DC lost an asset when Daniel Fromson took his talents to the New Yorker and promptly came up with this, and Josh Bernstein can be counted on to produce excellent work. But instead you get this, which reads like something one might find in a college paper, right down to the incorrect price for Saison Dupont.
And look, there’s a writer for The New York Times trolling in the comments of a beer blog. C’mon, New York. You’re better than this. Or, at least, you should be.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post has had two writers dedicated to just beer in the past, and now has one. The Village Voice, New York’s premier alt-weekly? No beer writers. Washington City Paper has had two, now has one.
Earlier this year The New York Post did an “expose” on the volume of beer poured at bars and restaurants. The result either exposed their ignorance, or caught bars that should know better in a sting. Either way, that’s not a good look for New York’s beer scene.
The Yankees: The new Yankee Stadium is unable to differentiate between what is beer and what is not, what is imported beer and what is not, and what is craft beer and what is not. It’s an impressive fail.
But just as one day New York will have a good enough socialist bike-sharing program to compete with DC, we’re confident that the New York beer scene will get better, too. Until then, maybe let’s hold off on having any major events in New York, and save them for cities that properly appreciate beer.
This post is a component of DCBeer.com's limited SAVOR2013 series. Check back for more information soon.