Republican U.S. House speaker Paul Ryan is coming to Chicago Thursday for a big-ass fund-raiser! If you have $1,000 to spare, you can join him for dinner at the Chicago Club and offer him your thoughts on the Trump administration and the new GOP health-care plan (known to some as “Ryancare”). Or you can stand outside and protest for free. Or, if standing around and yelling is getting old, you can drink beer on Wednesday night instead.
More specifically, you can go to Fatpour Tap Works and help members of two grassroots political groups, the Revolution League and Indivisible Chicago, drink up Big Onion Tavern Group’s stock of Ballast Point beer. Big Onion, Fatpour’s parent company, will donate the proceeds to Social Works, Chance the Rapper’s nonprofit.
This event came about after members of the Revolution League, a Chicago organization that, in the words of member AJ Taylor, “seeks to keep the conservative agenda from having any success in Chicago,” noticed that one of the vice chairs of the Ryan benefit was Constellation Brands PAC.
Vice chairship requires a $25,000 donation, and Constellation Brands PAC is a political action committee sponsored by Constellation Brands, an international beverage company whose extensive portfolio includes Corona and Modelo. Although the PAC donates to a wide range of both Republicans and Democrats—recent recipients include New York senator Chuck Schumer and Illinois senator Tammy Duckworth—members of the Revolution League took offense that Constellation was spending so much money on Ryan’s Chicago fund-raiser.
Or, as Taylor puts it, “Most Chicagoans would not be happy to know that their beer money is eventually ending up in the hands of Paul Ryan.”
The Revolution League thought it might be too much to ask Chicagoans to boycott all of Constellation’s brands, Taylor says. But members noticed that Constellation was giving a large push to one of its newest acquisitions, Ballast Point Brewing, a San Diego-based craft brewery it bought in late 2015 for $1 billion.
Taylor says he and his fellow protesters figured it might be easier to persuade bars to stop selling Ballast Point than it would be to get them to stop selling Corona.
“[Ballast Point is] distributed in 30 states,” he says, “but compared to Corona, it’s a growing, small, craft beer.”
They considered boycotting bars that stocked Ballast Point, but they didn’t want to inflict financial harm on small local businesses.
So Taylor and company went to the website Beer Menus and discovered that the Big Onion Tavern Group, which owns nine bars in the city including Fatpour and Derby Bar & Grill, stocked the beer, and figured that, as a larger organization, it had the ability to handle many phone calls from concerned citizens at once. They then teamed up with Indivisible Chicago, a group that organizes daily and weekly community actions and has about 3,000 members, and Indivisible made calling Big Onion and asking it to stop carrying Ballast Point one of its actions for last Thursday.
“After an hour of calling,” says Jason Rieger, Indivisible Chicago’s organizer, “we got a call back from the Big Onion communications guy. We explained to him that Constellation Brands are fueling the Ryan machine and that we don’t support them and want to get at them through signature brands. He said they agreed with us, but they have beer and a contract,” meaning that Big Onion had already bought a stock of Ballast Point and was committed to selling it.
And so a compromise was reached: Protesters would drink Big Onion’s supply of Ballast Point, and Big Onion would give the proceeds to Social Works. And Big Onion agreed not to restock Ballast Point in the future, Taylor says.
Big Onion’s owner, Erik Baylis, says he’d prefer that the event be considered a “gathering” rather than a protest, but declined to answer other questions. And in an e-mailed statement, Ballast Point marketing vice president Hilary Cocalis drew distinctions between her company and its parent company’s PAC. “Ballast Point has no independent impact on Constellation’s PAC,” she wrote. (In a separate statement, another company spokesman wrote that Constellation’s PAC makes political contributions “only in the interest of policy issues directly related to the beverage alcohol industry. The PAC’s primary goal is to educate lawmakers on the benefits of our industry as a whole—creating jobs and contributing to our economy.”)
Still, the protesters say they’re pleased with the outcome of their compromise with Big Onion.
“It’s a win-win,” says Rieger. “They heard our voices, they understood, they agreed, and we came up with a nice way to resolve the issue. It’s a nice little lead-in to the protest on Thursday.”
Plus, Taylor says, “We convinced nine bars to stop carrying Ballast Point. That’s less money Ryan will count on.”
Ballast Point Beer Drinking Gathering, Wed 3/22, 7 PM, Fatpour Tap Works, 2005 W. Division, indivisiblechicago.com, free.