It's undeniable that more craft beer is showing up on the shelves of local retail stores.
It's one thing to visit Salud Beer Shop in NoDa and see the massive selection of craft beer lining the walls, but Charlotte is slowly reaching that point at which any beer snob can stop at a Harris Teeter or local corner store and find something to address his thirst (or in some cases, impress his pretension).
So that begs the question, how does that happen?
Sure, the local breweries popping up on every corner (and their sales reps) play a big part, but there's a logistical link that often goes unnoticed, a vein from which craft beers from all over the country (and world) find their way to Charlotte: distribution companies.
Now, two local beer connoisseurs are looking to do distribution a little differently. In June 2015, Taylor McDermott and Sara Godsey opened Artisan Beverage Group, after working for years in all aspects of the local beer scene. Their hope was to change the distribution game, shifting its focus from being a delivery service that brings beer from place to place for hundreds of clients around the country to being a company built on client and customer relationships that goes out and finds the highest quality craft beer in the world and brings it to the Charlotte market to the meet the mouths of those waiting for the next big thing.
"We are more than a logistical arm, we're not FedEx or UPS," McDermott says. "What we try to do with distribution is we try to match the innovation. Because breweries, if you think about it, all these crazy new beers, all these crazy new products are coming out, but distribution has always just been, 'Well, we'll get it from A to B.' But we know how to talk to our suppliers — most of which are breweries, we are a craft distributor for beer — so we understand their challenges and what they may want or what they think they may want. Or if they're kind of green we can help guide them through the process and be more than just A to B for them."
McDermott and Godsey, who are engaged, both played positions on different sides of the ball before opening Artisan. Godsey started her foray into the beer culture as a bartender serving craft beers at Revolution Ale House in NoDa, and later worked as a beer rep in the local market for suppliers like like Starr Hill Brewery.
McDermott worked as a rep for Greensboro-based Natty Greene's Brewing Company, but perhaps more importantly for his future, he also worked with a large distribution company, where he launched a craft beer department and helped bring craft beers like Lonerider, Big Boss and Full Sail brewing companies to Charlotte.
Artisan was spawned in part because of that experience, but also from the couple's feeling that something was lacking in their experience with distribution companies as suppliers.
Godsey said she often felt she was competing for a distributor's attention among its hundreds of other suppliers.
"One thing that Taylor and I both experienced on the supply side is that we both worked with distributors that had huge portfolios," Godsey says. "From the supply side, this is something that I had to learn and a lot of suppliers have to learn, is that not only was there competition at retail — once your products are on the shelf — but you have that in-house competition within the distributor."
McDermott said that he and Godsey use the memories of that frustration to influence every conversation they have with both suppliers and retail customers now.
"The biggest thing is communication and expectations. You go into any sort of relationship and partnership and you have to know each other's expectations," he says. "What are you looking to put into this and get out of it? Communication is more than sending emails and talking on the phone, you have to speak their language. If the brewery is talking to the distributor but they're not understanding each other, things aren't going to happen."
That mindset has helped Artisan deliver 13 new beverage suppliers' products to Charlotte in its first year, including Holy City Brewing from Charleston and Sixpoint Brewery from Brooklyn. They've even recently begun working with Yo-Ho Brewing Company in Japan.
They don't stop with the beer and cider, however, as their suppliers also include MATI Healthy Energy and Cannonborough Beverage Co. craft sodas.
Ultimately, McDermott says, it's about expanding the options for suppliers and, in turn, expanding the options for Charlotteans.
"We saw there was an opportunity to help bring some change to distribution, really to enhance the experience for suppliers, but also use those brands to help the retailer as well," he says. "To be able to offer some really cool and interesting brands for people like us that are always seeking something new and different and wondering what's the latest and what's the wackiest shit that's out there, because it's out there."
He continued, "Our overall goal is to offer the best quality liquid that we can to the Charlotte area as we grow our footprint slowly and methodically to other parts of the state. We don't always look at what's local as that's all we're going to carry. It's all about the quality."