Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – When bivalve-enthirstened attendees at the 29th Annual Arcata Bay Oyster Festival sidle up to the beer taps on Saturday, June 15, they'll have three choices, all of one brand: SeaQuake Space Sailor IPA, Fogline Pale Ale, or Blonde Ale. SeaQuake, a Crescent City brewery (and pub) has exclusive beer-pouring privileges at this year's OysterFest, and that choice by Arcata Main Street (AMS) has again rankled an area brewer.
Six Rivers Brewery co-owner Meredith Maier said her "triggered response" to the selection of SeaQuake was "Bullshit," even an attempt to divide the community. To AMS President Vicky Joyce, it was a tough choice, one made over a period of weeks, weighing a number of factors but coming down to what is best for AMS and the downtown community.
"We offered a 50 percent discount on 30 kegs and evidently it wasn’t enough of a donation for an event that in previous years, per event has poured over 17,000 pints amassing close to $100,000 in revenue," Maier said in a Facebook post. "We need all the support we can get. We want to see this county thrive. Our work and time and products are valuable and when they are used as a pawn in a scheme to play people and businesses against each other we can’t sit idle. Arcata Main Street isn’t helping the community, they actually appear to be seeking to divide us."
Her post brought a cascade of condemnation against AMS's choice, casting it as, among other things, anti-women-owned businesses, "a big F U to local businesses" and a reason to boycott the OysterFest.
AMS, though, says it came down to fulfilling its core mission – serving the downtown Arcata business community, and the community at large. "We asked for proposals from all local breweries," Joyce said. "All were incredibly generous. SeaQuake showed the most support for the downtown programming we're trying to create. Less money [spent] for beer means more money for downtown activities, which is what we're tasked to do."
AMS Executive Director Jeanette Todd declined to specify SeaQuake's exact offer, but said is was "double the donation" and contingent on exclusivity. "Basically they offered two times that much," Todd said. "The more we fundraise, the less we have to ask from our members."
"In no way are we trying to alienate or put a brewery in a negative light," Joyce said. She said that there will be other events throughout the year in which AMS will seek the participation of area breweries.
AMS, which has programmed an unprecedented slate of new events and activities for the Plaza and environs, was recently granted an additional $33.000 by the City Council to fund downtown events, on top of its usual; $15.000 annual stipend. It's also rolling out a new, multi-tiered membership program after years of not charging any dues.
Maier sees it differently. "It doesn’t serve the community at large," she said. "We’ve supported AMS for 15 years, through event donations, donations to vendors etc. We would have supported them through out all of their events in the same we always have and do for Eureka Main Street and Chambers, groups tasked with similar missions. These relationships have to be symbiotic."
Todd said the criticism is uncalled for. "It's not normal to condemn a nonprofit for accepting a donation that suits their needs," she said. "The whole idea behind asking for donations is for people to give because they believe in the work you do, or what service you provide."
The bad blood between the two goes back to last year's OysterFest, when AMS was reviled for choosing, along with Arcata-based Redwood Curtain Brewing Company and SeaQuake Brewing, Petaluma-based Lagunitas Brewing Company, owned by beer behemoth Heinekin International, to pour there.
Maier said she'll be pro-active in her response. "Six Rivers Brewery will seek out those non profits that benefit from Oysterfest funds and make donations to those groups directly," she said. "We are here to support you and we appreciate the return of that support. Cheers!"
Matthew Wakefield, owner of SeaQuake, described the varieties that will be available at the OysterFest. Space Sailor is "a great single hop" with Mosaic hops, 6.8 percent alcohol. Fog Line Pale Ale is a "hazy"-style pale ale with zero IBUs, and is thus hoppy with no bitterness, and 6 percent alcohol. The Blonde Ale is "light and flavorful," and at 4.8 percent alcohol, "a great daytime beer."
"Arcata Main Street is doing a great job," Wakefield said. "This is our way of supporting them with a large donation to make the event successful."