This article was originally published in the May 2013 issue of Scene Magazine. You can find Scene Magazine on news stands and in local businesses all over Northern Colorado beginning the 1st of each month.
Next time you take a sip of beer, think of the people who made it possible for that beer to be in your glass. Two people that come to mind first are the brewer and the bartender. The brewer, who spent hours turning the grain, water, hops and yeast into beer. As well as the person who poured the beer for you, the bartender, are your first sources. However, the missing, and often not spoken of link, is the distributor. If it was not for them, you would be missing a very important and integral part of how the beer gets from brewery to your mouth. The distributor is the one who makes it possible for the beer to get from the brewery and to the bar or liquor store
First, a little history, when the Prohibition Act was repealed in 1933, a 3 tier system was established in an attempt to ensure fair practices among beer producers and to raise more taxes. Prior to prohibition, a brewery would often ‘sponsor’ bars, providing them with incentives to only serve their products. Post prohibition, if a brewer wanted to bring his product to the market outside of his taproom he needed to have someone else, a distributor, involved. The distributor is the middle man between the brewer, bars, restaurants and liquor stores that sell his product.
Here in Colorado we have more lienant laws than most states. Brewers can choose to self distribute, and most small breweries take this route. They are allowed to load up their pick up truck, and haul kegs and cases to and from bars, restaurants and liquor stores as they choose. Many breweries have staff members whose main responsibilities are the distribution and sale of their product.
Whether working for a brewery, or a distributor, the person who sells the beer becomes the face of that brand and an important part of the beer community. When you attend a beer dinner or a tap take over at your favorite watering hole, they are the ones telling you about the beer and handing out free key chains. Because of this, a breweries decision of how to distribute their beer is an important one.
As the number of craft breweries grows in Colorado, so does the number of small producers who choose to use an outside distribution company. American Eagle Distribution Company created a separate division, Gold Seal, to help distribute craft products, including those from Odell Brewing Company, Grimm Brothers Brewhouse and Funkwerks to Northern Colorado area retailers.
The changing nature of craft beer is also changing how distribution companies operate. Five years ago, American Eagle Distribution was responsible for just over 250 different brands. Now, they have over 1,200 and are gaining more each day. This has required the company to complete a million dollar renovation for their facility. In return, they were forced to create a new system that organizes, tracks and distributes their product.
The process of getting beer from brewery to glass is a complicated one with many players and many stories. This article is the beginning of a 5 part series on the distribution of craft beer. Check back in every Thursday for a new edition of The Middle Tier of Craft Beer, including interviews with distributors and sales representatives, an exclusive tour of the American Eagle Warehouse and more.
May 9: The History of Distribution
May 16: The Brewery and the Sales Guy
May 23: The $1 Warehouse Upgrade
May 30: Rosie the Distributor