That highly sought out-of-state beer you’ve been hunting could be coming to Columbus.

Wisconsin-based Brew Pipeline expects to launch this spring with Ohio among its 15-state initial rollout around the United States. Its Guest Brewer program aims to be a middle man of sorts between distributors and retailers on one end and growing craft brewers on the other.

“We’re focused on revenue innovation for this industry as a whole,” said Marty Ochs, the company’s president of sales. “Be more creative. More efficient.”

Ochs, former sales director at Oregon-based Ninkasi Brewing Co., joined Brew Pipeline co-founders CEO Steven Kwapil and Chief Operating Officer Trip Kloser in the startup.

Kwapil spent 30 years as vice president of sales for River City Distributing in Wisconsin, particularly focused on craft. Kloser has 25  years in the industry as a consultant with work in distribution, logistics and business development.

The idea is to bring some in-demand brands from around the country into new markets. The model isn’t tap takeovers and big rollouts, however, but rather a single product for a set time in a limited number of retailers.

“We’re not going to bring the whole Surly (Brewing Co.) portfolio, for example, but would could just bring in Furious (IPA) in for a month. And that’s it;’ Ochs said. “Short-term pulses, one beer, maybe two at a time. So if we’re in Minnesota for Surly, maybe we bring in something from Fair State Brewing, too.”

The program has lined up more than 20 breweries already with a goal of 75 total. In addition to Minneapolis-based Surly, Oregon’s Monkless Belgian Ales and Drake’s Brewing in California are among the early commitments. On a market basis, it would work with about 50 accounts for both draft and packaged distribution. The first beers into Columbus through the program could arrive by April at the soonest.

Through Brew Pipelines online portal, breweries will say what beer can be provided, in what volume and what mix of package and draft. Buyers will then order off that capability.

“There’s a go-day lead time;’ Ochs said. “It’s all pre-sold. Everything is brewed to order. Nothing older than 15 days will be delivered:’

If the capacity to make more beer is there, brewers can jump in, but if it’s a busy time, they can pull back.

“They decide where they can go and how much they can do;’ he said.

Ochs said it allows brewers to test new markets with minimal commitment. As with a distributor, breweries do give up some margin, which is where Brew Pipeline makes its revenue.

But Ochs countered that it still beats the cost of rolling out in a new market. Plus, rather than focusing on a big push in one or two markets, brands can get into many n1ore with these targeted, smaller bursts. Markets that otherwise wouldn’t have heard of the beer can get a taste and impression. The goal is incremental sales for both brewers and distributors.

Brew Pipeline will work through a distributor in each market and though that distributor will have exclusivity to the beer in that market, since it is through Brew Pipeline, the brewery isn’t locked into a commitment to that distributor.

“For distributors, they’re getting an exclusive interview, the proof of concept;’ Ochs said.

If the work through the Guest Brewer program goes well, perhaps it could lead to a long-term relationship for that distributor should the brewery decide to expand.

Ochs said it is not a new model, but Brew Pipeline is a new vehicle of sorts.

Whole Foods, for instance, with its nationwide reach can bring out-of-state brewers into markets for periods of time. Distributors with brands in other states sometimes can get access to smaller brands that otherwise aren’t distributing. Breweries themselves with good friends elsewhere have pull, too. But Brew Pipeline is a more centralized, formal path to access.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Original Article – Columbus Business First 2019