A lot of things will change in the beer, wine and spirits world in October, not just cold regular beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores.
The Oklahoma distribution system is changing too. Oklahoma has been a four-tier state for a long time. Now, it is changing to a three-tier state.
The four tiers included producer/supplier, importer/distributor, broker and retailer. Under the new system, the broker will merge into the importer/distributor category.
For the average consumer, nothing changes — in theory.
But the new law will give breweries a choice of which distributor they want to use. For the consumer, it means the product is taken care of because a brewery could move to a different distribution company if they aren’t happy. Breweries will also know what stores their products are going to be in and how long they have been sitting there. Under the current system, they have no idea where their product is unless they make phone calls or visit a liquor store.
Freddy Lamport, owner of importer Craft & Barrel and former owner of Jenks’ Biergarten, has been involved in Oklahoma beer sales in different capacities. He started as a liquor store owner, and now, his company has merged with Atlas Brands, another importer.
He has done everything except open a brewery.
Lamport had a decision to make when voters approved the changes in the state’s alcohol laws last year. He read the writing on the wall.
“Do I take out a loan and do our own distribution with our beer brands? That was one of the changes to be a beer distributor. Or do we find someone that may fit what we are doing with our plans and work alongside them? I think we found a really good home with Atlas Brands. They had a portfolio we knew we could come in and help grow, and so it’s just been a blessing working with everyone at Atlas,” Lamport said.
The consumer is going to see a lot of movement with new beers in grocery and convenience stores. But behind the scenes, there will also be a lot of movement. Breweries are trying to figure out if they want to self-distribute or sign up with a distributor, a more likely option due to the cost of buying trucks and hiring drivers. Brewers got in the business to brew beer, not necessarily to deliver it. The distribution network is already in place, it is just a matter of who they want to take care of their products.
“It’s not just the retailer that has to put up a lot of money. I’ve had to merge my company with another company just to make sure our brands survive and that we can have access to the market,” Lamport said. “The wholesalers understand that there may be some brands that they may not be carrying anymore because they are attached to some other importer that sells indirectly from them, and they don’t have to go through a wholesaler anymore.”
Lamport didn’t stand still when he merged with Atlas Brands. He has brought into the market seven new craft breweries.
“We signed Knee Deep Brewing Co. out of California, a really awesome West Coast-style brewing that is doing some cool IPAs and stouts. Upland Brewing out of Indiana, which is going to be doing some cool barrel-aged sours; they have a really nice clean line of beers which means not sour, not funky. They have sour lagers and some old-school pilsners that are really cool,” Lamport said.
“Then there is Goodwood Brewing out of Kentucky. All their beers are aged on a different kind of wood. They have gose aged on hemp.”
He also brought in a new import company called Emerging Brands, which sells a lot of the lambics, which are Belgian sour beers. Others include one from Colorado called 14er Brewing Co., a less expensive canned beer, as well as Modern Times Beer from San Diego and Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project from Denver.
“We are continually pushing the envelope to see what we can do in Oklahoma,” he said. “That’s the reason we merged Craft & Barrel and Atlas. It helps foster a great relationship and bring a lot of cool new things into Oklahoma. We do spirits, wines and beers now and have a lot more in-depth portfolio.”
Breweries want to partner with a distributor that will take care of them, a company that will help with shelf space and gets them into a location that hasn’t seen their beers before.
“The breweries that are really doing their research for out-of-state markets that want to do distribution in Oklahoma will really be ahead of the curve. They say by the end of 2018 there will be 15 new breweries opening and maybe even more,” Lamport said.
Taprooms are a great way for consumers to try it fresh from the source and get information from the breweries themselves. But going to a brewery isn’t always the most convenient way to purchase beers. There are a lot more liquor stores around town than breweries. So breweries that choose to distribute will likely sell a lot more beer.