Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA –The OysterFest beer-broglio has either been resolved, or just gotten worse. But in any case, attendees at this weekend's 28th Annual Arcata Bay Oyster Festival will have a choice of delicious, thirst-slaking beers from three breweries – one hyperlocal, one regional and one regional/multinational.
First reported by John Ross Ferrara of the Lost Coast Outpost, Arcata Main Street had earned the enmity of local breweries by asking for their beer to be donated to this year's Arcata Bay Oyster Festival (of which the Union is a co-sponsor). The local brewers alleged that Arcata Main Street (AMS), which mounts the OysterFest, was using an offer of free beer by Petaluma-based Lagunitas Brewing Co. to leverage them into doing the same. AMS denies this.
According to AMS Executive Director Jeanette Todd and Boardmember Josh Neff, Petaluma-based Lagunitas Brewing Co. is donating 10 kegs of IPA, Arcata-based Redwood Curtain Brewing Co. will provide 40 kegs of IGA on a 1-for-1 basis – that is, one keg free and one purchased, while Crescent City-based SeaQuake Brewing is providing 80 kegs on a 1-for-1 basis.
AMS had solicited donations of beer from the local brewers, including Eel River Brewing Co., Lost Coast Brewery, Six Rivers Brewery, Mad River Brewing Co. and Lost Coast Brewery. It had a verbal agreement for 35 donated kegs and 7,000 cups from Lost Coast, but that blew up during a heated meeting between AMS and the brewers at Mad River Brewing Co. (MRBC).
Todd and AMS Boardmember David Neyra had gone to MRBC thinking they were going to work out another deal with that brewery, only to find all the local brewers present – and rather pissed. They'd been sharing information on the aborning beer arrangements, and didn't like being hammered into giving away their product with the Lagunitas cudgel.
"As we started to talk, all these discrepancies started coming up," said Meredith Maier of the pre-meeting discussions. "A distribution company confirmed that Lagunitas had put a very large offer on the table."
Maier said the local brewers stood in solidarity against Lagunitas, which as of last year is wholly owned by Heineken International. The Petaluma brewer is heavily involved in a range of local events, with its beer available at the North Country Fair, Reggae on the River and other area festivals. The locals feel it eclipses the indie beermakers.
"All I want is a high tide that lifts all the boats around here," Maier said. "You can't use Heineken/Lagunitas to leverage a donation from local breweries. It's dirty business. It's bad business." She said the AMS reps at the MRBC meeting were "devaluing our businesses, our staff and our craft."
Todd staunchly denies that there was any pre-existing deal per se with Lagunitas. She said Lagunitas's 10-keg contribution was just added by AMS's board last Tuesday, to ensure an ample supply of beer for the festival.
But according to Neff, who served on the AMS board's beverage committee, there had been a standing offer from Lagunitas, and one that AMS didn't make any secret of in the interests of transparency.
"It was always on the table," he said. "But it wasn't a negotiating tactic by any means. That got blown way our of proportion. It was never a leverage point."
Maier disputes this. "Everyone heard the same thing," she said. "It was 100 percent or nothing."
Neff attributes the breakdown in negotiations to "poor communication by everyone."
"There's been a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of defensive posturing," he said. "We of course are sensitive to keeping things local. In a perfect Utopia we would keep everything local."
But, he added, AMS's core mission is to promote Arcata's downtown, and the OysterFest is the organization's principal funding source.
"Our directive from the city is to create 12 to 15 fun events per year for the community, and we have to fund that," he said.
In any event, no one is likely to lack hydration resources at the OysterFest. In addition to beer, Mendocino County-based Frey Vineyards is providing organic, vegan, sulfite-, gluten- and GMO-free wine for the event (on a 1-to-1 basis). Mimosas will also be available along with non-alcoholic beverages.