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Boston-Area Bars Await Charges in a Case of Illegal Pay-to-Play

by Emily Lee on Sep 9, 2015 in Beer
Boston-Area Bars Await Charges in a Case of Illegal Pay-to-Play

A handful of Boston-area bars face more than just a slap on the wrist after the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) found several establishments in bed with a major beer distributor over the course of a nearly year-long investigation.

The official report released last Wednesday found Everett-based Craft Beer Guild LLC (the state’s largest distributor) guilty of bribing local bars to serve its beers – an arrangement that’s led to setbacks for small local competitors. Craft Beer Guild’s portfolio includes Allagash, Brooklyn, Founders, Yuengling, Smuttynose, and several other national craft beers.

This specific brand of bribery is referred to in the industry as “pay-to-play,” in which breweries pay bars under the table to stock their beers and freeze out the competition. The practice is illegal in Massachusetts – and has been since the repeal of Prohibition – as a way to give smaller breweries a competitive edge.

Still, kickbacks have played a role in the beverage industry for years, denying smaller breweries their fair share of the spotlight. Boston.com reports that while similar practices are legal in other venues, such as grocery stores, they’re outlawed in bars due to stricter regulations on alcohol. Many assume that bribes are common and occur on a large scale, but few distributors and bars are ever charged.

Not in this case. Now, the bars that accepted bribes are facing charges of their own.

In one such instance of bribery, investigators found an invoice for $4,700 from The Briar Group – owners of Gather in the Seaport District as well as other bars and restaurants – to Craft Beer Guild, showing that the restaurant group charged $20 per keg to keep Craft Beer Guild’s products on tap. The ABCC also found that Coogan’s owner, the Glynn Hospitality Group, received $13,500 from Craft Beer Guild last year.

In addition to Gather and Coogan’s, the list of violators includes Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar & Grill in the Seaport, Game On outside Fenway Park, and Estelle’s in the South End. All were cited in the official ABCC report released last week.

The scheduled hearing will take place on November 3. In the meantime, check out one of the local craft beers Bostonians have been missing.

Photo via Flickr user Wagner T. Cassimiro "Aranha"


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