Death By A Thousand Cups
A bartender’s hand slips off a freshly washed pint glass that falls to the floor with a crash. The sound of its destruction triggers cringes from patrons, some uttering small groans of disapproval. The expense of replacing a pint glass is negligible, folded into the overhead costs of running the drinking establishment. Unless an employee is exceptionally uncoordinated, such accidents don’t noticeably diminish the bar’s glassware inventory.
Across town, the employee of a small brewery takes stock before opening the tasting room to the weekend rush of beer enthusiasts and their friends. The racks of clean glasses seem sparser than they were last week. Or the week before that. Or the week before that week.
The cause here isn’t a careless bartender or busser. It is, literally, thieves.
Many operators of the small brewery tasting rooms that have popped up across Maine in the past year or two face the same questions after every busy weekend: How many tasting glasses are left, and when will we need to order more? The more popular the brewery, the more likely they are to fall victim of this type of petty crime.
The cumulative financial impact has compelled some brewers to attempt to police their tasting rooms, a task they are, understandably, reluctant to do.
“We have to spend more time than we’d like looking after taster glasses,” Jake Austin, of Austin Street Brewery, told me. “That’s time that could be spent talking to people about our beer and our brewery.”
Most of the affected breweries that have branded tasting glasses also offer those glasses for sale, often for only a few dollars. So why does this thievery continue week after week?
Maybe it’s because the glasses are tiny and pretty. Maybe the tasting room guests are trying to look cool in front of their friends by pulling off a mildly daring heist. Perhaps they’re so entitled as to believe that because they paid for a beer, the glass should be theirs when they finish it. Or maybe the small samples they’ve consumed have simply eroded their already weak impulse control.
There are actions that can be taken to make glassware less attractive to thieves, and several Maine breweries have taken those steps. Breweries can use unbranded glassware, ask patrons for a taster-glass deposit, or switch to plastic cups on busy days (please, don’t). They can invest in security cameras, post scolding signs, or spend more time monitoring patrons. But all those measures have drawbacks — they’re a hassle, an expense, or both. Switching to unbranded glassware robs breweries of opportunities to promote their brand via social media — all those photos of your pals hoisting tasters on Facebook and Instagram.
Unfortunately, glassware isn’t the only thing snatched from local tasting rooms. Posters, artwork, flight boxes, tasting paddles, and even a potted plant have all walked away from brewery tasting rooms in recent months. This indicates a more general attitude of entitlement that, as with glassware theft, ultimately leads to higher costs for everyone.
Instead of expecting our breweries to invest time, money and staff for extra security, let’s join together in an effort to raise awareness of this problem and help to self-police it. I believe we can change this culture of entitlement if we try hard enough. The pilfering of one taster glass obviously won’t be the ruin of any single brewery, but the collective kleptomania will lead to higher prices and a less convivial atmosphere for all.
Go to Austin Street Brewery and order a taster glass of Patina Pale Ale. Go to Rising Tide and get a flight of four beers served in their wooden tasting box. Go to Foundation Brewing Company and look at the little outline of the state of Maine on the back of your sample of Forge.
If, while enjoying your samples, you see someone trying to steal something, call them out on it. Maybe give them a nasty glare, or mutter a quick, disapproving “Dude” (which is also effective on women). And when you’re done, bring your tasting glass back to the employee at the taps — because it’s the right thing to do.