In the United States, a restaurateur cannot simply place an order with a brewery and have it shipped to the restaurant's door. Instead, restaurants and liquor stores must purchase beer through a licensed beer wholesaler.
The beer distributor's job is to deliver fresh, refrigerated wholesale beer to establishments that are allowed to sell alcohol and make sure the appropriate taxes are collected. This three-tier system was developed by lawmakers after Prohibition to help prevent alcohol abuse, and prevent minors from ordering straight from a producer.
Depending on the state, there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, microbreweries are allowed to make beer and sell it on-site with no middle man involved. Some microbreweries are also permitted to be their own distributor by applying for a special license.
But for the most part, a patchwork of distributors are responsible for supplying our nation's restaurants and liquor stores with wholesale beer. Your selection is limited by the offerings of the beer distributors licensed to sell in your area. Here's what you need to do to get started:
1. Find out what beer wholesalers handle sales in your region. Contact your state's beer wholesaler association to get a master list.
2. Get inventory lists to find out who sells what. Producers usually only grant one distributor with the right to sell their product in any given region, so that there aren't two or more beer wholesalers competing to sell you their product.
3. Work with a distributor to educate your staff about beer and keep abreast of market trends.
Go straight to the producerIf you're looking for the distributor who sells a nationally distributed beer in your area, it's probably most convenient to get the producer's list of wholesalers. Some microbreweries also list their distributors on their websites.
Search for local beer distributorsNationally recognized brands are one thing, but there is an entire world of microbrews to consider. Different beer distributors specialize in catering to niche markets.
- Since Miller is merging with Coors, many of their distributors are merging as well. Check with your Coors distributor to find out if this is the case in your region.
- Unfortunately, wholesale beer prices are not negotiable. However, distributors do offer specials.
- Find out what kind of beer distributor you're working with, as each has a unique niche in the market. Some are known for providing high-end products, some specialize in foreign imports, and some are known for selling at discount wholesale beer prices.
- Ask your customers what kinds of beer they would like to see on tap or in the refrigerator.
- Good beer distributors are in business to sell you and your staff on the product they are pushing. Find out if your beer distributor offers tastings or speakers to educate your staff so they can effectively introduce the beer to your customers.