Local beer scribe Michael Moeller smashed a home run earlier this week with this piece about an infamous namesake.
The (Other) Stephen Foster Story: Kentucky’s Craft Beer Con Man, by Michael Moeller (Kentucky Sports Radio)
This is the story of a craft beer con man who traveled across the United States and abroad – a man who knew how to exploit the shared weakness of most small businesses – talk a big enough game and a background check won’t be required. Talk an even bigger game and even fool business partners and investors.
In the beginning there were exploding bottles, infected batches, and angry customers from across the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The longer the brewery stayed open, the more rumors and complaints piled up within the beer community.
Despite the many issues, St. Arnulf Alery, a new brewery in Cadiz, Kentucky, announced on social media that a beer garden was under construction in late September 2018.
And then nothing.
Without explanation or warning, the beer stopped flowing. Distribution stopped. Contact ceased.
With somewhere around 7,000 breweries in America, apparently there are numerous opportunities to fleece unsuspecting sheep. It’s an incredible tale.
Based on conversations with former colleagues of Foster’s, in addition to what Foster told others, here’s a timeline:
- Pre- 2007: Foster is allegedly receiving brewing education in Germany and later employed in beverage jobs in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic
- 2007- 2008: Bowling Green Brewing Co. (KY)
- Pre-2011: Boston Breweries + Unnamed brewery (Cape Town, South Africa)
- 2011: Nimbus Brewing (AZ)
- 2011 – 2013: Four Horsemen Brewing Co. (IN)
- 2014 – 2015: Knoxville Saw Works / South College (TN)
- 2015: Sevier Ale House project (Gatlinburg, TN)
- 2015: Wyndridge Farm (PA)
- 2016: 81Bay Brewing (FL)
- 2017-2018: St. Arnulf Alery
Since researching this story, I have learned that Foster occasionally goes by his first name of ‘Scott’ and sometimes takes the last name of ‘Sala.’ As of January 2019, colleagues of Foster believe he is residing with his family in Illinois.
The takeaway for small business owners, of breweries or otherwise – take the time to interview and check references. Know who you’re allowing to become an ambassador for your brand and your name, and especially those who you might be entrusting with investment dollars.
Paste’s Jim Vorel picked up Moeller’s story and did some musing of his own. How has Foster avoided fraud or embezzlement charges, and “why would a guy like this travel the country, uprooting his family once a year on average, in order to attempt to pass himself off as an experienced brewmaster?”
Perhaps it’s because in the overall scheme of things amid corporate America’s daily shakedowns and shysterings, Foster’s cons are small beer, and mostly off the media radar. He’s defrauding family-owned indie businesses, which (a) suffer a degree of self-effacing embarrassment after being ripped off, and (b) figure they don’t have the resources to mount a pursuit.
Then again … can Foster actually be charged with anything substantive?
How many handshakes were involved, as opposed to formal contracts? It’s not any less scandalous, but it isn’t clear to me whether Foster has done anything explicitly illegal. The lawyers can weigh in on this, and I’m sure they will.
As a supporter of citizen journalism, lots of kudos to Moeller for writing. It seems to me this is something the Brewers Association would pick up — that is, whenever the BA is finished canonizing Charlie Papazian.
The Unbelievable Story of Stephen Foster, Craft Beer Con Man, by Jim Vorel (Paste)
I’ve heard some strange stories about brewery employees over the years, but it’s 100 percent accurate to say that I’ve never heard a story like this one before. Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione once described the craft beer industry as 99 percent asshole-free, but if the years since have taught us anything, it’s that he was being very generous in his estimation. Especially in a world where the likes of Stephen Foster continue to exist, trailing brewery closures in their wake.
We should note: Information regarding this story is still pretty scarce. Most of what we know comes from a Kentucky Sports Radio story first published yesterday, wherein the tale of Stephen Foster is brought to light, but there are some supporting anecdotes to be found around the web. Some of this stuff may have to be taken with a grain of salt, but there are enough corroborating breweries to say this with some degree of certainty: A man named Stephen Foster has been conning American craft breweries for more than a decade, at the very least. It’s like the beer world’s equivalent of Frank Abagnale in Catch Me If You Can, except much less sophisticated.
Credit where credit is due: Writer Michael Moeller did a bang-up job of diving into the seedy history of this craft beer bogeyman in his KSR story, and you should really go read it in its entirety.