10 March 2010

So You Think the Philly Debacle Can't Happen Here?

So you think the Philly Debacle can't happen here?  Just because one state-appointed official happens to be a certified beer geek that celebrated his 1,000th beer at Mahaffey's recently?

Think again.

I went to a liquor store where the owner and I were setting up a beer-tasting dinner (sorry, private event, can't tell you where), where we had to grab the details and planning and make it happen because the primary organizer of the event was currently in hospital in intensive care with pneumonia.  Anyhoo.......

I had the job of going through the Maryland Beverage Journal--the basically official monthly state catalog of which distributors carry what booze products--and finding the stuff we were supposed to order, and finding a few more to possibly  add in at the last moment.  Say someone comes in waxing eloquent about, oh, Clay Pipe Hop-Ocalypse, and wants two cases pronto.  You grab this book, which looks like a small phone book, and all going well, you can find which of 20 or so booze distributors in Maryland carries it (if your customer was smart enough to remember the name Clay Pipe or brought the empty bottle, and isn't just spouting some word nobody can spell), then order two cases, calculating your mark-up from the wholesale price that may (or may not) be listed.

I was looking for specific Scottish and American-made Scottish-style ales.  I already knew the importers for most of them--not as in "know who imports them," but as in "know them personally."

Here are some things I found:
  • I found Scottish-made beers listed in "Domestic."  I found American beers listed in "Imported." 
  • I found several beers that were listed by their names and not by their brewery (think "Colossus" instead of "DuClaw", or "Hopocalypse" instead of "Clay Pipe").
  • I found that, apparently, Old Dominion and Fordham no longer exist in Maryland, if that "official" publication is to be believed.
  • I found one brewery not listed in the official directory as being distributed by the distributor, in spite of the brewer himself telling me "Well, they just made a pick-up here, so...." on the phone.
That was a total of maybe only five minutes perusing the pages for *very* specific products.  I wonder what would have happened if I had looked at Belgians.  Or special releases.  Or, hell, looked up BrewDog and tried to order Tactical Nuclear Penguin.  Oh, and by the way?  I tried like hell to search online to find the Maryland distributor for BrewDog.  As far as that information online, it must be a classified secret.  (You can find out in the MBJ--it's a wine distributor.)

I was then told by a rep for one of these distributors, "The Journal is a great joke book.  Don't even try to find most of the Belgians.  They don't bother listing the stuff.  What they do is, if you're interested in the stuff, like Max's or the Brewer's Art or the gastro pubs would be, they have that little line in the listing that says 'Belgians: call so-and-so for availability.'  And B. United's guy will come around with a list that looks like a small phone book that goes thud on your desk."

Another funny part?  "Every once in a while, we get in a few cases from overseas we didn't even know were coming over.  We have no problem selling every drop of it, however.  The old guard places that have been doing craft beer for decades, we call them up and ask if they want X number of cases, and they're happy to get anything we hand them, they understand the limited quantities.  The new guys, they're the ones that get peeved and think you're jerking them around  when you won't sell them twice as much as arrived in the warehouse!"

Now, is an "official catalogue" like that a potential recipe for disaster?  What must the official state roster of registered beers in Maryland look like?  (But at least no one's trying to sell Russian River Consecration here that I know of.)


Andrew said...

Do you mean they don't list Fordham and Old Dominion as being distributed anywhere in Maryland, or that they don't list them as coming from Maryland? If the latter, I'd assume that's because they're brewed in Dover.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

Nope. Not listed at all. Doesn't exist, apparently. Seriously, looked in Domestic, Imported, under every brand or recipe I could think of--Millennium, Copperhead, etc.