A while ago I was able to buy from a South Coast bottlo a few beers from the United States that I figured I’d never get to try.
That would be the Maui Brewing Coconut Porter and Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute Imperial IPA (I would have loved the 120 IPA but beggars can’t be choosers). I’m pretty sure both of those beers were grey imports. At which point we should cue that scary ‘‘Dunt-Dunt-DAH!’’ music, because for some in the beer world, grey imports are very, very bad.
Essentially, a grey import is a beer that has been sent to another country without the brewer’s consent. Some of them, like Stone’s Greg Koch and, I think, Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione, don’t like that at all. It comes down to quality; if they’re not supervising the way the beer is shipped then they can’t guarantee it will arrive at its destination tasting great.
They don’t want to get a bad rep from someone drinking a substandard beer. It’s for similar reasons that they don’t want to do the importation themselves – to send it in such a way as to ensure quality would end up with a prohibitive price tag and to do anything less would be unacceptable.
Now, I can see their point but, at the risk of receiving a few cranky comments below, I have no problems with grey imports. With one caveat – that the ‘‘official’’ version isn’t available here. Put the real deal and the grey beer side by side and I’ll buy the real thing. But if the grey one is on the shelf, I’m buying it.
Because the chances of me getting an officially sanctioned Dogfish Head or Stone beer is pretty frigging slim. I’ve heard and read about these beers from the US and other countries for ages and so I’m simply itching to try them. If I see some on the shelf I’ll buy it, even if there’s a chance it might not be fantastic.
But really, if the beer ends up being only 75 per cent of what it ideally should be, that’s still going to make it a pretty fine beer. And, as I’ve never tried the beer before, I don’t really have any benchmark to decide whether the 90-Minute IPA I had was lacking (it wasn’t. It was an absolutely cracking beer and one that went down far too easily for a 9 percenter).
It’s not as though the brewer is out of pocket here. It’s not like CD or DVD piracy where someone makes a copy of a legitimate product and then sells it. Nor is it like those fake Rolexes and Nike clothes you can find on holidays in Bali. The grey import beer is the genuine beer made by the brewer and the grey importer has paid for the beers (at least I assume so – it’s a very different issue if the importer swiped a shipping container of beer and is selling it).
I get that it’s not really about the money, that’s it’s about wanting the control over the delivery, to ensure the beer the customer gets is top notch. They don’t want me to get a less-than-perfect beer and then form a negative impression of them.
Which sort of ignores the fact that I can barely buy any of their beers in the first place. So what does it really matter that a person living in a country where you don’t export doesn’t like a beer? It’s not like that person can then go ‘‘well, that was crap. I’m never buying that beer again’’. Well, they could but it’d be a stupid thing to say – because they can’t buy that beer again anyway. Because it’s almost never seen here.
So if a foreign brewer doesn’t export their beers to Australia, then I feel fine in buying grey imports. Some in the craft beer world support the brewer and refuse to buy grey beers, which is a stance that strikes me as both noble and a little odd. Why side with a brewer who is effectively depriving you, the consumer, the chance of trying their beer?
I also can’t help but wonder how many of these people have burned their friend’s CDs, brought home a stack of pirated DVDs from Thailand or illegally download TVs and movies online. Because those things are actually taking money away from the people who made them. Not to mention illegal. Grey imports of beer are neither.