Pittsburghers will get a crack at some craft beers they wouldn’t otherwise be able to drink here, thanks to a new wrinkle in the old-school three-tier system of manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer.
Typically, in Pennsylvania as in most other states, a brewer would have to sign a long-term contract with a master distributor to carry its beer and sell it within a specific territory — sometimes via other distributors — to bars and restaurants.
A company called Brew Pipeline has a Guest Brewer program that adds, not another layer, but a new wrinkle.
The company acts as a national wholesaler and sells relatively small amounts of buzz-worthy brews to distributors, ships the beer and helps market it — in part based on the product being a limited, short-term release.
Retailers place orders even before it’s brewed, reducing risk to distributors and bringing in new revenue for brewers.
After a contracted time period, Guest Brewer releases the brewer, which can pursue a formal distribution deal with a local distributor. Or the brewer just ships more small amounts to various markets via Guest Brewer.
“We’re just creating a very slow-moving e-commerce model for beer,” says Marty Ochs, president of sales for the Pewaukee, Wis.-based Brew Pipeline, which offers innovative programs to open up craft brewers’ portfolios and reach untapped markets.
Launched this spring with six breweries, Guest Brewer is slated to be in 30 states by month’s end, and has rolled out in Eastern and Central Pennsylvania. Mr. Ochs says the company hasn’t signed up any Western Pennsylvania brewers yet, but Philadelphia’s Evil Genius Brewing Co. is set to sell beer this way this winter.
In the Pittsburgh area, Guest Brewer is working with distributor Galli Beer Corp. in New Kensington. Galli has each brand for up to four months.
This short-term relationship is more sustainable for brewers than being “married” to a distributor, says Mr. Ochs. Craft beer drinkers are a fickle lot anyway, always looking for the next new thing. He says some brewers in the program will never sign with distributor. The number of breweries nationwide surpassed 7,300 last year.
Products set to hit certain Pittsburgh-area retailers in August:
• MobCraft Beer Co. of Milwaukee: Batshit Crazy Coffee Brown Ale
• Indeed Brewing of Minneapolis: Mexican Honey Light Lager and LSD Honey Ale
And in September:
• Pryes Brewing Co. of Minneapolis: Royal Raspberry Sour
• Ecliptic Brewing of Portland, Ore.: Capella Porter
• GoodLife Brewing of Bend, Ore.: G Love Special Sauce IPA
• Longdrop Cider Co. of Boise, Idaho: Vanilla Honey Cider
• O’so Brewing Co. of Plover, Wis.: Night Rain Porter
Guest Brewer is working on launching a beer finder app, because laws typically preclude a wholesaler from advertising retail accounts where beer can be found.
But the participating beers won’t be hard to find in Pittsburgh, as big retailers including Caliente & Pizza & Draft House, Industry Public House and O’Hara-based grocer Giant Eagle are among those who have placed orders.
“We see so many things that are great with this,” says Chad Kordes, Galli chain accounts manager, who says it’s a perfect fit with the craft beer world trends. “There’s no loyalty any more in this industry. Everybody wants a shiny new toy.”
In another twist, Brew Pipeline was able to nationally distribute a beer that was a collaboration between Durango, Colo., Ska Brewing and the ska band Rancid. Thus, when Rancid headlines a Sept. 14 show at The Lots at Sandcastle, music fans will be able to sip Brewstomper Golden Ale. Galli also is pre-selling a second 34 cases of cans to other accounts.