$5000 For The Chance to Pour at a Charity Event?

Craft beers in doubt at Taste of the Nation as Anheuser-InBev moves in

Pourmouth: Leffe is one of the beers Anheuser Busch-InBev will pour at Taste of the Nation Boston, but the brewing giant’s deep pockets may price out smaller craft beer makers the foodie fundraiser is known for.

At least one Boston micro brew won’t be offered at this year’s Taste of the Nation Boston – after learning that the high-profile hunger fundraiser will now ask a $5,000 “donation” of firms that hope to pour.

In the past, attendees of the $95-a-head Share Our Strength fundraiser have sampled from a healthy list of local beer, wine and spirits makers and importers, featuring some of Boston’s growing list of brand-new micro breweries. Drink Insider called it a “great showcase of local craft beer and spirits.”

Now, Boston event organizers are in the awkward position of explaining to past exhibitors how, since beer giant Anheuser Busch-InBev (NYSE: BUD) has agreed to a large donation to the organization for the chance to exhibit, these tiny suppliers must make a gift of at least $5,000 (see correction, below).

At first, some thought they were being shut out entirely. “Unbelievable. Budwesier is the official beer so all LOCAL craft brands have been dropped from the Taste of the Nation Boston show??? #NoKidHungry #BS,” Somerville brewer Slumbrew wrote in a Facebook post earlier this week.

That’s not the case, said Share Our Strength spokeswoman Christy Felling. She noted that “table pour donations” generated $1.8 million for Share Our Strength in 2012, nearly half the $4 million the nonprofit raised through its nationwide string of 31 Taste of the Nation events. Boston’s event, which hasn’t asked for the pour donations, last year raised $80,000, she said.

Apparently, money talks. But for more than a decade, Share Our Strength has enjoyed loyal and vocal supporters among chefs in Boston, who have responded to co-founder and CEO Billy Shore‘s philosophy of in-kind contributions toward the fight against hunger. Slumbrew co-founder Caitlin Jewell says her brewery donated $1,200 in beer last year. Asked if $5,000 cash is feasible or a good business decision for her startup company, “No and no,” she said in an email.

Founded in 2011, Slumbrew, aka Somerville Brewing Co., makes about 2,000 barrels of beer each year. For some perspective, Boston Beer Co., the largest domestically owned brewer, measures its sales in the millions of barrel, Anheuser InBev in the hundreds of millions.

With the April 18 Taste of the Nation Boston event less than a month away, it’s a short list of beer, wine and spirits exhibitors who have confirmed they will give $5,000 to participate in this year’s Taste of the Nation Boston: Anheuser, Cavit Collection and OneHope Wine. Felling didn’t exactly answer my question about whether the organization is concerned about losing small craft brewers, but she did issue the following statement, which gets the last word here:

“Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Boston is always a fun event. Most importantly, these events raise the critical funds needed to end childhood hunger in America. And, with a lively crowd of food and drink fans every year, it can also be a valuable marketing opportunity for local and national businesses. Our organization was founded on the premise that everyone has a strength to share and that, together, we can make sure every child in this country has the healthy food they need, every day. We continue to honor that premise at Taste of the Nation events around the country and are grateful for the support of phenomenal restaurants, chefs, mixologists, sponsors, vendors and attendees who help us make No Kid Hungry a reality in America.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story mis-stated the amount Anheuser-InBev is donating to exhibit at Taste of the Nation Boston. Their donation was “much larger” than the $5,000 asked of “non-corporate” exhibitors, a spokeswoman said.(Bizjournals.com)

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