A guy once told me he saw the phrase “There are no windmills in Fort Collins” on a bumper sticker.
I wasn’t sure if he was full of shit, so I Googled it. No results. Now, I still can’t accurately determine whether this individual is indeed full of said shit, but I can take the gist of what he was saying about Colorado’s own New Belgium Brewing and run with it.
He’s from North Carolina, a state in which New Belgium has been distributed for quite some time, so what does that tell you? But the fact that the brewery has expanded into Virginia should also tell you something. It should tell you that as craft beer’s slice of the overall beer market’s pie grows, there will be some big winners.
Set aside your opinions of an environmentally-friendly organization shipping its product from the Rockies to the Appalachians. There’s another reason New Belgium’s entry into the Virginia beer market should be astonishing: their method of expansion.
When New Belgium decided they wanted their product on the shelves of beer stores in Virginia, they didn’t write pleading letters, make a slew of persistent phone calls, or draft emails at two-thirty in the morning begging distributors in the commonwealth to carry their product. No, they walked into this state with a team of experts, asking those distributors one question, “what can you do for us?”
One has to realize that the game has changed since the days of yore. A “craft” brewery such as New Belgium can indeed have the upper hand in negotiations for getting their beer to market. They scout their prospective targets, research the hell out of it, listen to distributor after distributor pitch a gimmick as to why they would be the best suited to carry such a mighty brand, and then deliver. These guys do their homework. Brands can have cachet. And as long as people keep buying, they’ll keep brewing.
No longer is it just the guy down the street with a mash paddle and a dream. It’s serious business, and the craft breweries that are thriving on a larger scale have figured that out. Trust me, before this thing went down, people were rolling out the red carpet for these guys. There were meetings all over town here in Richmond, and among the people who are legally entitled to be the middleman, the anticipation was high. Everyone knew it would be a cash cow, but the problem with that is the heifer needs a lot of attention because it wants to keep growing.
Fact of the matter is, customers had a relative target date as to when they’d be on the shelves in Virginia. Demand was there. It was just a matter of time before the brewery dictated the terms of the arrangement.
Maybe there are no windmills in Fort Collins because they’ve got no need to tilt at them. In a quixotic twist of fate, they’re now calling the shots.