Tuesday, February 7, 2017

8 Things I Learned Working at a Craft Beer Store


While I was going to school last year I had some time off to find temporary work.  After all, the craft beer hobby is an expensive one and my savings was dwindling down.  One of the beer stores I frequently visited in Louisiana was hiring and in need of a craft beer connoisseur.  Although my knowledge of whisky, vodka, rum and wine was limited, I was determined that I could be the best damn beer salesman they have ever seen.  After getting a call from the manager and a preliminary interview I was on board with the team.  I had no idea what I was getting into and how difficult it can be run a successful craft beer store.  After all, this wasn't a beer cave or a beer store run by amateurs, it was a artisan store that specialized and catered to craft beer wizards such as myself.

Here are a few things I learned while working there and what you should know the next time you go into a store and grab a beer.  I have left out the name of the shop to protect their integrity and business model.

1 || Check The Date!!!
I cannot stress this one enough!

 The average liquor store employs minimum wage employees that couldn't care less about rotating stock, especially when it comes to beer.  I was lucky enough to work at a place that did care about the date of a beer.   If it did not sell by the "drink by" date, it was returned to the distributor.  This is much worse at a grocery store where Cans are typically stocked by pushing the new product in from the front and the older products to the back... and behold it is possible to find a year old IPA.  Gross!

 Next time you drink a beer that tasted like your Uncle Jimmy's first home-brew, check the date! 

General rule of thumb: IPAs, Ambers, and Pale Ales are good up to 3 months old for freshness and Double/Imperial IPAs can last longer but will lose their carbonation and bitter hop taste.  Use your judgement on searching for other styles and ask if you are unsure of how long a beer can be aged or not aged.  There are many other factors that can contribute to a bad taste or "skunk" smell, which leads us to the next point.

2 || Proper Beer Storage

It is often common to see displays setup by store windows or in a poor air circulated damp corners that are susceptible to mold or other elements that can hinder the taste of beer.

 Sunlight and Oxygen are the two biggest enemies of beer, and proper beer storage is essential to providing fresh beer to the masses.

Once a beer leaves the brewery it is at the mercy of the distributor, truck driver, and store owner to maintain the integrity of the beer and the way it was meant to be enjoyed by the brewery.  The packaging and bottle can affect the flavor.  Bottles that are completely enclosed in a packaging box or a Can are the best alternative because they allow zero light to infiltrate the beers' DNA.  Other bottles that are clearer and green are the worst for maintaining the quality that we deserve.  Check the location the store has the beer located in and look for signs of any sunlight to infect the beer.

3 || To Keep Cold or Hot?
My friends tease me constantly for my love affair with room temperature beer.  My time living in Colorado and Ireland have engrained the idea in my head that beer is designed to be enjoyed where the flavors can be tasted.  It also is a important question that I was asked at the liquor store.

 "Do you have this beer on your hot shelf?  I'm traveling with it and don't want it to lose it's hoppy flavor".  

 What in the world???  It will not hurt a IPA or hoppy beer to transfer it from cold to hot necessarily nor will it lose flavor.  A beer has already made that journey several times from the brewery to the beer store.  Again, the most important thing when transporting beer is proper storage and to monitor temperature swings.  If it's 38 degrees in a store cooler it may not be the best idea to leave the beer in your car when it's 103 degrees outside in the summer time.  The "Ice Cold" myth was developed by American big beer companies and I will agree with them 100% here.  If your drinking a light beer, please drink it as cold as possible, you DO NOT want to taste the beer!

4 || "Do you guys carry this beer?"

"Yes, I was on a trip in Florida recently and loved this beer.  Do you guys have Cigar Citys Double IPA?" 

 I got asked those questions daily and it got very very very old.  I understand that the average person doesn't understand the dynamics between distributors, State Laws, and where a beer can be purchased.  Cigar City Brewery is not distributed in Louisiana (although they where purchased by Oskar Blues, which is distributed in Louisiana).  It can be complicated trying to keep up with the ever-changing craft beer scene.

SeekABrew.Com is a helpful google docs website that is a helpful interactive map that will show you which Breweries are distributed in each state.

For comparison reasons, Louisiana has around 90 breweries that are distributed in the state and that number is difficult to count between Northern and Southern LA.  Texas has around 160 Breweries that are constantly revolving in and out of TABC permits.

5 || The Distributor 
In 1933 Prohibition was repealed under the 21st Amendment and the Three-Tier System was developed as a way for States to tax beer and have the sales monitored.  Although it varies state to state, the system is simple.

Importers/Breweries sell to Distributors,   Distributors sell to Retailers, and finally Retailers may sell to customers.

The process varies in different states but Distributors are generally tasked with keeping the beer fresh as well as strategically choosing the best method of distribution to its' clients.  The clients differ based on their needs.  The store I worked at had a large profit of sales based off craft beer purchases and was able to access the special artisan craft beers that are harder to find than at your average grocery store.  Be cautious when you see something new and do some research on it before you buy it.  If the cost is cheaper for the customer and not a high mark up, then it's a great deal.

6 || Limited Cooler Space: Who Controls It 

In a ever changing market full of beer competitors, it can be tough get a front row seat in the beer cooler space.

The "front row seat" products are what are seen first by customers and generally have the best movement of stock.

I had the pleasure of designing a few beer displays and choosing which ones would go into a cooler to replace older stock.  This is not always the case for other stores that do not have the same flexibility.

 Rotating and keeping a beer fresh is A-LOT of work! 

 I have a high respect for finding a good beer selection at a store these days.  A good bottle selection is generally not created by the distributor but by the manager working with the distributor.  A few cooler spaces are reserved for the BIG beer guys and the rest are typically chosen by the manager or employees depending on how well a product sells. Again, this varies from State to State.  If a product sells, you can be sure to see it back on the front row center for all to see.  If you don't see it, just ask a sales person if there are more, usually it will be in the back or on a hot wall.

Pro tip: be nice and front beer the next time you pull one!

7 || The Make Your Own 6 Pk Section 
The holy grail of a beer store for a Untappd user would be the Make Your Own 6 Pk section.

That is the best and most cost effective way to try as many different beers as possible without breaking the bank.

This can be complicated with the variety of SKU's and beer packaging.

Generally a SKU on a bottle has a different number then the SKU on a package and can be purchased separately.  One Can of beer however has the same SKU for the price of the entire 4 or 6 Pk depending on what you're purchasing.  This can be difficult to track and many stores choose the "$10, 6 packs" to add to the Make Your Own 6 Pk section.

Wherever you shop, always ask what the policy on splitting up a 6 Pk is.

You may be able to purchase bottles or Cans individually and save money while trying several different breweries!

8 || The King of Beer Styles

Lagers, Pale Ales, Stouts, IPAs, Double IPAs, Barley Wines, Porters, Lambics, or Hefeweizens?

In a tough market a Brewery is constantly searching for trends for the new year and how to meet the ever changing demands of the craft beer connoisseur.  In the 75+ beer styles, there is one style the prevails above the rest in America.  There is one style that is convented by store managers that specialize in artisan beer because it simply sales better then others.  The American IPA or a hopped beer easily out sell's other styles.  It's no wonder many traditional breweries are switching over to hoppy beers, and Big Beer companies are buying up craft breweries that specialize in IPAs.

The king of beer styles is ruling the craft beer world without a hint of slowing down and is revolutionizing the hops industry in America.  You support IPAs and generally you can support American Farmers. We all win!

The Happy Chappy (Jeff)  

"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing"