New York 80X20, the Craft Beer Initiative that is Rightfully Doomed to Fail

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While touring the hip new Long Island City craft brewery scene this weekend, we noticed a sign at the small Big Alice brewery that we couldn’t make sense of.

We tried mathematical permutations, counting the breweries in the area, checking the legal blood alcohol level in New York, and finally googling it, but all to no avail. Finally we asked the bar keep who explained it was an initiative to get New York bars to serve 80% New York brews by 2020. 

After asking the details such as if consortium owned NY brews like Blue Point and Ommegang would count, I determined that this was already a failed initiative which is fine because it will never happen. 

First, the most successful bars in the city are those that cater to tourists. While some may be interested in trying some local craft suds, the vast majority from Everytown USA and Europe prefer drinks like Coors, Miller, and Budweiser, and that isn’t going to change. Good luck convincing the Times Square Applebees or Bubba Gump to give up their cash cows. Even more “local” bars in the boroughs need to cater to their hipster crowds with cheep beer like PBR and Milwaukee.

Second, this would necessitate the inclusion of fake craft brews like Ommegang, Blue Point, and Blue Moon. While they make some good beer, they are all owned by enormous conglomerates, and defy the spirit of this. This would also require some arbiter of what a “craft beer” is. There is no definition currently and any attempt to define one would force out some deserving brews and include some non-deserving ones. Is Brooklyn Brewing a craft? Is Six Point?

Third, I use the beer menu at places as a sign of quality and passion for beer. The inclusion of a rare Trappist ale or a Brett fermented sour signals that a place knows beer and will probably serve it well. Forcing this on places without an interest in beer will just result in dirty taps, bartenders who know nothing about the beer, and a bad experience.

Fourth, this would leave no room for other good beer from outside the state. NJ has just as many, if not more small craft breweries with high quality drinks that deserve a place among those in the city. There are also plenty of small European and West Coast beers that should have a home. There are times when a German wheat or a Trappist triple are in order. Leaving only 20% would necessitate the entire allotment for popular domestics and edge out the small breweries.

Lastly, there are times when a Bud Light lime or a Corona, while by no means the pinnacle of fine beer, taste perfect. Forcing these out or forcing people to drink good beer is a level of snobbery that isn’t needed. People like what they like for a reason and should be allowed to imbibe what they like. 

I understand and support the spirit behind this of trying to support small breweries, but to me, I don’t see any lack of small breweries popping up nor do they seem to be struggling. In fact the whole conversation only happened because of our visit to three tiny breweries that have only opened in the last two years, all of which had a good sized crowd over Memorial Day weekend. 

Let’s let breweries succeed on their own merit.