On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss the concept of voting with your wallet when purchasing drinks. Following recent controversial tweets and comments from the CEO of Brooklyn’s Threes Brewing, they deliberate on whether personal politics should impact the beverages we choose to consume.
Tune in to learn more.
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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the “VinePair Podcast.” So, how have we all been? It’s the week post-Super Bowl. It feels like we’re back in prime imbibing time, if that’s a thing. Do you know what I mean? That always happens post-Super Bowl, where you know everyone had crazy parties. Especially coupled with Valentine’s Day coming right after it. We had our VinePair holiday party, too.
Z: Yeah, and you were jet-setting across the country for parties.
J: So you’re back in prime imbibing time, is what you’re saying.
A: Hey, don’t just come at me.
Z: I will back up at him on this. Caitlin and I definitely had a bottle of wine last night, and then had a cocktail each, after the kids were asleep.
A: Woah! A wild, crazy night at the Geballe house. It is that lever that gets pulled, like, “OK, cool, we’re back.” And everyone’s getting excited about March and whether it will start to warm up or in your neck of the woods. It definitely isn’t here. But it is funny how that happens. And then people start going out again in much larger numbers than you do right after the holidays, and take that hibernation period in January. I don’t blame anyone for it, to be honest. It makes the bars more fun for me. But I do think that it’s interesting that it really does seem to be that way. So with that in mind, Joanna, what have you been up to in the last week? What have you been drinking? What have you been doing?
J: So we went out for Valentine’s Day. I had the Martini that I said I was going to have, and that was really nice. We went to a local restaurant where I’m living now. But before that, on Sunday, I went to the grocery store and got a few local beers that were actually pretty good. I got Five Boroughs Brewing City Light, which is an unfiltered light lager, which was really good. And then more locally, Oyster Bay Brewing Co. out on Long Island, Barn Rocker Ale. Barn Rocker is a hockey term that Evan had to tell me about, and that’s a session ale.
Z: What does the hockey term mean?
A: Yeah, what does it mean?
Z: We have a hockey team in Seattle now, and I need to know this.
J: I don’t actually know what it means.
A: Joanna just informed you that it’s something around hockey.
J: It was indeed a hockey term, yes.
A: Oh, interesting. But we don’t know what it means?
J: No, I’ll look it up. I should have looked it up for this. I think it means when you score a bunch of goals and you’re doing really well.
A: So you’re “rocking the barn.”
Z: If the barn’s a rocking, don’t come knocking?
A: I guess they play hockey in barns?
J: Is that what they do?
A: No! Look, none of us watch hockey. So that sounds cool. What else?
J: This past week, we had a bottle of wine from Pasqua Estate in Verona, Hey, French Soave. It’s a Super Bianco, which is a blend of the Garganega, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc from different vintages.
A: Yeah, that’s a cool wine.
J: It’s really cool wine. That was really delicious. What about you, Zach?
Z: Caitlin and I had a nice Valentine’s Day dinner at home with the kids, as promised on last week’s episode. We opened a bottle of 2003 Damilano Lecinquevigne Barolo, which was very nice. We do have a lot of fondness for wines from Piedmont. It was one of our first trips together as a couple, so that was particularly special. I’ve also been drinking a lot of beer lately, also. It’s become two things. One, it’s a great thing for me to do during the day when I’m taking care of my daughter. Breweries are usually kid-friendly around here and open, especially on a Friday during the day. So I’ve been getting around some of the local breweries. I went to Urban Family Brewing here in Seattle and had a couple of nice beers, including one I particularly enjoyed, which was a plum sour that they make. It was very good. They’re particularly focused on making sour beers and do a really nice job, both fruited and not. The last thing I had recently was, again, still inspired by the recent “Cocktail College” episode about the Sidecar. I decided to go get some blood oranges and made a blood orange Sidecar, which was very tasty. I have little ambitions on playing with that recipe a touch. But it was good. How about you, Adam?
A: On Super Bowl Sunday, we had some interesting beers. Josh came over with some other friends. Josh brought Oxbow. I love that brewery. We had a really nice pale farmhouse ale, so it was hopped farmhouse or whatever. I also really enjoy the Session IPA from Other Half called Forever Ever. It’s just an awesome beer, and it’s 4.3 percent or 4.4 percent. So it’s great for watching football and having two or three of them. So that was what I consumed. I did have to go to L.A. in the middle of this week, and I got to go to chi SPACCA. The wine director there is Nathaniel Muńoz, and he took care of me and a few friends. The coolest thing is that we had a pretty cool bottle of wine that I was very lucky to have, which was a bottle of 1998 Bourgogne, which was delicious. So that was a lot of fun. Then, I drank a good amount of Scotch because that’s why I was out there. We had dinner for a bunch of VinePair readers at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
A: Yeah, in collaboration with the luxury portfolio of Scotch whiskeys from Diageo. So we had some ridiculous Taliskers and Mortlachs and Orphan Barrel, which is their special project. So it was cool to try a bunch of these really, really old Scotches. They were 20 and 30 years old. And that was about it. Now, I’m back. This week, we thought we’d talk a little bit about voting with your wallet. We’ve had some conversations like this in the past. There was a huge news article that came out this past week that said that there’s a lot of data proving that people are moving to specific parts of the country to live with people they agree with. And that we’ve never seen a higher percentage of people who say that they would be upset if their child married someone of an opposite political belief. At this point, it’s like 45 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of Republicans say that they would not be OK with their child marrying someone of the opposite political persuasion. There’s a lot of conversations about politics happening in our world right now. In addition to that, there’s massive amounts of pandemic fatigue. We’re hearing from that on either side. So one of the things that happened this past week in New York is that a brewery that we’ve talked about a bunch, Threes, one of their co-founders and CEO tweeted some stuff being pretty anti-vaccine passports and things like that. It’s gotten a lot of attention because the neighborhood in which the brewery operates in, Gowanus, is very much a liberal neighborhood that’s very pro the New York City vaccine passport. And he’s saying he wouldn’t accept them, he doesn’t think they’re necessary, and some other kind of crazy sh*t, to be honest about it. So that got the three of us talking. Obviously, you had the reaction on Twitter of lot’s of people saying, “I’m never drinking Threes again.” What do you do? When do you vote with your wallet? And what does it mean to vote with your wallet? I was having this really innocent conversation with one of our writers via chat saying, “Do we think anyone even cares?” Does the majority of customers at Threes really even care? Is this going to affect their business at all? How do people really know what’s happening, and how many people does it really affect? One of the things I always think about is, there have been several other cases around the country of brands behaving badly and the people in the beverage world know about it. Whether it’s a specific whiskey brand or another beer brand. There was the whole Founder’s issue a few years ago. My brother is a massive Founder’s drinker — or was — until I told him what happened. He hadn’t read it. He’s not on all the beer sites all the time, so he didn’t know. If you looked at what happened to their bottom line, it probably didn’t affect them that much at all. It’s really interesting to think about, how much does the reaction even matter when these things happen? For some people, do they just like the beer, and that’s what it is? Or do they just like the wine, and that’s what it is? So I’m curious what you guys think about all that.
J: Go ahead, Zach.
Z: There’s obviously a lot to unpack here. One thing that’s been a little different of late and maybe it’s been exacerbated by some of the pandemic stuff or whatnot, is that I think that in the past, I might have thought about how a producer or brand operated in its official capacity. Setting aside Three as a specific example, but just in general. Knowing that, for the most part, maybe some of the people who worked in a given brewery, winery, distillery that I might like — maybe even the people who ran it or owned it — I might not have agreed with them politically on everything. But I recognize a) that I’m not necessarily able to or interested in sussing out all of the personal politics of everyone involved in any given product I’m going to consume. And b) that there has been space to go, I might not agree with who this person voted for or some of the things they support, but if the company or brand as a whole isn’t doing anything particularly political and isn’t involving itself, I have generally been able to sort of say that’s probably enough. If they’re not using their company or brand in an expressly political way contrary to what I believe in, I probably wouldn’t have necessarily refrained from purchasing and consuming those things. Part of what’s different in the last few years with social media being ever present, is it’s a lot easier for people to spread and then to share or have shared their personal politics, should they choose to express them. I think that’s true outside of our industry too, for sure. It’s something that is very true in general, and something that all of us have to be at least a little bit cognizant of. It’s also true that to that statistic and evidence that you were citing, Adam. I don’t know if these things actually matter more now than they used to, but for a lot of people, it feels like they do. There is a little bit of a vibe of choosing up sides, and I can understand people saying, “Hey, I might really like this wine. I might really like this whiskey. But I don’t like what I’ve read or heard or seen about the people who make it.” And you know what? I live in a world of infinite choice. I don’t have to be drinking this if I don’t want to be. I have another brewery, another winery, another distillery, another bar, another restaurant I can patronize. And that is, I think, the part where the voting with the wallet does make a certain amount of sense. Because in the end, fortunately, we are spoiled for choice in this country and all of these categories almost no matter where you are. That ability to say, “You know what, I’m not even necessarily going to wade into the messy debate about who is and isn’t right. I’m just going to choose to support someone who I believe, either aligns more with me and my beliefs, or at least isn’t out there espousing something that I disagree with vehemently.”
A: What do you think, Joanna?
J: I definitely find this challenging as a consumer, myself. I think about the Threes example or any other example, where I like the brand, and I pay money to have it and I enjoy it. And then something happens where it’s revealed to me that I don’t agree with the politics, whatever it is. I feel really remiss to not buy that brand again. In some cases or in many cases, the people who work there — maybe they don’t suffer, because maybe it doesn’t affect the bottom line — but it feels really sh*tty for the people who work there. I think that that’s something that I find really challenging as a consumer myself. Also going back to one of the original points that you made, I think a lot of people don’t know. I think that’s really hard. I think about In-N-Out Burger. That’s more like a religious brand. There’s a Bible verse on the cups.
A: But most people have no clue.
J: And most people have no clue. Or maybe they buy it and they notice it. I think I’ve had In-N-Out Burger once to try it, but it’s something that I think about often. Or I think about Chick-Fil-A, how people love, love, love Chick-Fil-A, but it’s a horribly homophobic brand. People love Chick-Fil-A. They talk about it a lot, and they’re like, “It’s so amazing.” And people still buy Chick-Fil-A all the time. Even though we do have infinite choices in this world right now, people still, in some cases, are aware of the issues or controversies or whatever. Hey, maybe they agree with them. I don’t know. And they still choose to patronize. It’s just a very interesting and kind of challenging point that we’re at right now.
A: I think it’s one of these situations where, as a business owner, you have to make a decision if you’re going to be publicly political. One way or the other. If you are, you have to decide whether or not you care that some of your employees do or don’t agree with you. You put the employees in a very tough position, but this isn’t unique to alcohol at this point. You have Spotify employees demanding that Joe Rogan be pulled down from the platform. The CEO’s like, “F*ck no.” If you guys saw The New York Times report last week, it came out that they didn’t pay Joe Rogan $100 million to join Spotify. They actually paid him $200 million to join Spotify, and that there’s going to be even more payouts, because he literally is the reason that the platform has exploded in the U.S. There is crazy amounts of data that show tens upon tens of millions of listeners listen to him blather for hours, and then they stay on the platform and listen to music. So the CEO of Spotify doesn’t care that the other employees are uncomfortable. What’s hard about a situation like Threes or other things we talked about in the past is, when the business owner is trying to clearly say this is their personal opinion, don’t hold the business accountable. Because there’s no way to do that, right? If I had a crazy personal belief and said, “Don’t hold VinePair accountable,” everyone should and would. That’s just how this is. That’s the same for any of these companies. Zach, the last time you and I talked about this is when VinePair reported on this too, about all the donations that Marvin Shanken has made to Trump. You can say all you want that that’s a personal belief. But he’s the owner of Wine Spectator. By taking out ads, buying Wine Spectator, etc., you’re supporting his bottom line, which then allows him to give Trump money. If you don’t believe in supporting Trump, then maybe you shouldn’t support that.
J: That sucks. I feel really sh*tty about that. If you said all these crazy things, Adam, and then you were like, “Don’t hold VinePair accountable,” and then people did, I would feel really sh*tty about that.
A: Yeah, exactly. The thing is, we haven’t found a better system for business in the world than capitalism. We just haven’t. Maybe someone will figure it out at some point, but capitalism is the system that we have, and in capitalism, you are allowed to vote with your wallet. I do think that, while it is really sh*tty for the employees, I don’t know what else to say. I know a lot of people who said to me in the past week, “Oh, man, I don’t think I can drink that beer again.” Or for the next few weeks. I don’t feel good, personally, now drinking that.
Z: I would wonder, too, if there’s a difference in the way that people feel about something like a brewery like Threes. For a lot of people, that feels really important to them. We talk about these kinds of places serving as third places and as community connectors. As you mentioned, it’s in a very liberal part of Brooklyn, and I think there probably were a lot of people who felt kind of betrayed in some sense. We all make a lot of assumptions, but one of them that I would feel relatively comfortable in is that if I’m looking at one of the massive multinational beverage corporations, probably the people at the top of those corporations have political beliefs that I don’t share. I think that’s a safe bet.
J: It’s a safe assumption, yeah.
Z: But I’m also not necessarily saying I would never drink any of their products. I do, and maybe there’s hypocrisy there; that’s fine. I recognize, to some extent, that that’s true. But I think there is something about these smaller brands positioned in very liberal cities and even extremely liberal parts of very liberal cities. And probably, to some extent, they are positioning themselves one way. To learn that the people who are profiting most from this, maybe, that’s not how they feel, I can see how that can feel like a betrayal for people. In a way that learning the Busch family, behind AB InBev, has their personal politics. That probably doesn’t come as a shock to anyone.
A: It’s interesting what you bring up, Joanna. With the examples of Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out, there are a lot of conversations that always happen on all this kind of stuff. I have the full data in front that I cited at the beginning. In 1960, 4 percent of Democrats and 4 percent of Republicans both did not want their kids marrying someone of the opposite political party. This year, 45 percent of Democrats and 35 percent of Republicans said that they would not accept their child marrying someone of the opposite political party. But that still means that 55 percent of Democrats are OK with it, and 65 percent of Republicans are OK with it. The way I gauge that is, the 45 percent of the Democrats and 35 percent are Republicans that aren’t OK with that, are probably the same group of people that are going to vote with their wallet around brands. The other groups are like, “You know what? I don’t really care. They make a good chicken sandwich. I’m not going to 100 percent live my values, because I don’t know how I could do that. So I’m going to enjoy the chicken sandwich, and go give to GLAD.” There are a lot of people who still do that, and I think there will be a lot of people that are still going to go to Threes. And they’ll say, “The owner seems like he’s going through it, and he has really crazy views on the vaccine that I don’t agree with. But they make beer and I want to support the brewer and the employees and blah blah blah. And I actually don’t have a relationship with him. I’ve never met him before, but I’ve talked to the bartenders countless times on the nights I’ve been there, and I’m going to drink the beer.” I think that that will continue. Will there be some suffering in sales? Probably, but it may not be as bad as everyone thinks it will be, because there is still this portion of the population that doesn’t care as much. They are able to put things into different buckets of importance of how much they really want to live that truth. That’s the same with religious beliefs, too. There are people who are super religious and people who are culturally religious, to varying degrees. I think it’s interesting because we always cover this stuff all the time and talk about, “Oh, what does this mean? Is the brand dead?” I think it is going to suffer, but I don’t think it will be for very long.
Z: A complicating factor here, too, is that another time that we’ve had this kind of conversation has been about either criminal or gross sexual misconduct by people who are in positions of power at companies like this. Especially when it tends to be persistent and systemic abuse, there’s a lot of conversation about how people should boycott the restaurant or producer or whatever. In some ways, what is complicating for me in this is that we do have a certain political freedom in this country to believe what we believe politically, to espouse our political beliefs to some extent, to vote how we care to vote. Not without any consequence, obviously. But I’m not sure that I’m comfortable saying all the time that I won’t patronize a business where there are political beliefs that I don’t agree with. But I also think that that is getting more complicated and that it’s getting harder to do. This isn’t a debate about the founder of a brewery and I disagreeing about whether student loan debt should be canceled. There could be a good-spirited debate about that; you can feel one way, you can feel the other way. I don’t think I would necessarily say I’m never going to your brewery again because you and I disagree on this issue. But with things surrounding Covid, the vaccines, and other things that really have these broader societal impacts in life-or-death ways, in some sense, there is some element of this that is a complicating factor for me. I agree with you, Adam, that there are lots of people who will just either not be aware of the news at all, or they might be like, “Oh, OK, maybe we won’t go there for a while.” But then a month later, two months later, they’re in the neighborhood and they’re thirsty. Where I’m not sure where we land is, do we end up in a place — I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here — where we want businesses that we might patronize to actively identify their politics? I don’t know. I’m not sure if I’m explaining that. I think we’ve seen a lot of that in a variety of ways. Some heartfelt and genuine, some maybe via token gestures, around things like race, inclusion, diversity, and gender equality. Things like that. And this feels of a piece with that, in some way.
J: Yes, I think I understand what you’re saying, Zach. And I think I agree with it.
Z: That’s good. I’m not totally sure I do, so thank you, Joanna.
J: I think that there’s a difference between a brand whose politics are known, as you said, and that kind of permeates the brand. When you do choose to give your money to that brand, it’s a known thing, versus something where it’s an isolated incident that happened, maybe, or something that’s kind of come to light. That does really complicate this situation for people. I mean, I feel this myself. I think a lot about the last few years and a lot of the breweries or restaurants where these situations have kind of come to light. And they have been horrible, assault or whatever the offense was. I think to myself now, is there a period of time after which I would go back to that place or patronize that place again? Has the company addressed it? What would it take for me to go back? Because I do think about this and I think about it in publishing as well. For a lot of breweries, is this brand OK? Can we write about Founders? Adam, can we cover it? I don’t know. Are we at that point yet? But I do think with a brand like an In-N-Out, where it’s known what the politics are, that’s something where we can make those decisions a little bit more easily.
A: It’s hard to say, if you’re going to vote with your wallet, you better do it all the time. First of all, no one can. And look, it is very hard to do that research. But, if you are the owner and you are going to go on a public platform and make your views known, then I think that’s a different case. Chick-Fil-A very, very publicly is anti-LGBTQ. Very publicly. So if you still then choose to support them, for whatever reason, you made that choice knowing this. Are there probably other restaurants, bars, etc., that we all frequent that may have similar beliefs? Where I grew up in Auburn, Ala., for sure. But I didn’t know that. The owners didn’t talk publicly about what they did or didn’t believe. I’ll tell you this one thing: I definitely didn’t go to Jim Bob’s, which was this fried chicken place in Auburn, where he had Bible verses everywhere and told everyone who was Jewish like me, “You’re burning in hell.” I didn’t frequent that. If you’re not going to choose to do that, if you’re not going to make your political beliefs publicly known, it’s pretty hard to know. I think it’s not fair to hold people who say that they’re not going frequent the places who do know, “Well, then you better do your research on every single place that you ever frequent, whether it’s the furniture you buy or the pasta you cook, or any of that stuff.” Because it’s just not possible. But once you put it publicly out there, it is. I think that that’s the challenge that producers have to think about. If you believe something this strongly, then you need to be prepared for the backlash. What’s always surprising to me is that every person who does put their beliefs out there, is then always surprised there is someone who disagrees with them. I think it’s because you’re so confident. You just gotta have such — I don’t know if it’s narcissism — but beliefs that are so strong that you feel like you’re totally right. Like Adam Neumann: “I’ve got crazy beliefs, and I’m going to tell everyone them and then I’m really shocked and everyone thinks I’m crazy.” I just think that that’s part of that personality trait. That’s always been super interesting to me, how they’re always surprised by the blowback. You’re giving everyone no choice at this point. Where I feel really bad is for the employees. To put your employees in that kind of position is just not right. These people rely on you to literally be able to live. You are, in some ways, a caretaker of your employees. The business doing well is what allows everyone to continue to survive in our f*cking country. So, by doing something reckless because you can, you’ve now put every single other person at risk. And that’s just so f*cking sh*tty. In this regard, that, to me, is more upsetting than anything else. The Covid stuff in regard to Threes, I think, is really sad to hear that people don’t get vaccinated or don’t believe anyone should ever get vaccinated. Or the people who give to Trump have upset me from my own personal beliefs. But when you then put your employees at risk, it’s just like, f*ck. We’ve already been through enough, there have been too many people in this country over the last year who’ve been scared of whether or not they’re going to have their jobs.
J: Not to mention the situation that craft beer is in right now.
A: Yeah. As all of us have intimated in this conversation, it’s just really difficult. It’s hard to say what you should or shouldn’t do. It’s hard to say that if you do choose to not support something, then you have to not support all things, because that’s also impossible. But we’re all in situations where, if we feel uncomfortable about something because of something that was said, we’re totally within our rights as a capitalist country to not purchase it again.
Z: As I said before, there are always other options.
A: Totally. This brings up so many other topics that I want to discuss, but there’s not enough time. Zach, I was thinking about this earlier today. I would love to get the data and see how many people are still pursuing the Court of Master Sommeliers. Has that gone down? Has that gone up? How much do these controversies actually matter, at the end of the day, to the majority of people? I think it’s really interesting. If you are a listener and you have a controversy that has caused you to make a certain decision one way or the other about supporting or not supporting a business organization, please let us know. Shoot us an email at [email protected]. We love hearing what you think about these kinds of topics as well. They also help inform us as we continue to make our own opinions. Joanna and Zach, I’ll talk to you on Friday.
J: See you then.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.