World Class Beverages Indiana

June 28, 2010

A Card That Needs To Be Played

Filed under: Beer Business — Jim Schembre @ 10:55 am
Tags: , , , , ,

While traveling in Northern Indiana to visit Three Floyds brewery one summer evening I was told about a country bar in a small town that had great tenderloins. Indiana is noted for their tenderloins and it is an Indiana tradition I love to partake in.

I arrived at the local bar with notices in the window proclaiming “We Love Our Troops” and displaying American flags in all the windows.  Upon entering I also noticed even more American flags hanging on the back wall along with red white and blue flashing lights across the bar. This most certainly was the “Heart of America”.  I also found the bar very clean with lots of people, small children, and I was sure everybody knew everybody and that I was the outsider.

After sitting down the waitress came over to ask what I wanted to drink. I was wearing my “Drink Local Indiana Beer” shirt from last year’s Indiana Micro Fest so I asked “anything local?” She seemed confused by the question then directed me to the bartender. I then asked him what he had that was locally made.  He proudly handed me a Shock Top.  I quickly stated that no, that was not a local beer but a brand owned by a company in Belgium.

Still trying to satisfy me he showed me all the beers he carried (there were 45 different beers in the cooler). Only one was even remotely craft or local, Sam Adams Light. He then said he might have something in the cooler and he went took but came back and said no this was it.

Now I could tell the bartender seemed offended by my comments about local and there were a couple other people at the bar paying attention and I am sure they did not believe what I was talking about so I did not push it any farther.  But I would guess if I went to everybody in that bar that night and ask them about Local Beers and local foods they would boast about the fact that they were buying everything local. Beer, now that is a different subject.

As a craft beer enthusiast and a beer wholesaler I find this scenario both common and frustrating. If I asked the sixty or so customers of the bar that night if they thought they were eating pork tenderloins from Brazil what do you think they would say?  If I asked them if they realized all the beer selections there were from foreign companies what do you think they would say?

Now the question is if I believe that those consumers would buy something else (especially if it was local) then whose fault is it that they have no local beer choices? Does the problem lie with consumers, retailers, wholesalers or brewers? Do consumers even care? As a wholesaler could we or should we use that as a selling tool?  In this scenario the bar manager was probably offended and that would make it an even tougher sale. But was he offended because he did not know?  Or did he not want his customers to know?

By the way, the food was great!

Lots of room to comment here and I would like to hear it.



  1. I’ll go out on a limb and say: Part of it is inescapably cultural, in the sense that many people have spent so many years defining themselves by the mass market beer they drink that they have no idea what it is we’re trying to say.

    But: It’s all our fault, too, all the way up and down the distribution chain, because we plain ignore a substantial percentage of the macro drinkers. All the ratcheting up that all of us do to produce crazy, clever, extreme, colorful, exuberant new beers works marvelously for the small percentage off beer drinkers already aware of the revolution.

    These beers pass unnoticed as far as the majority goes. When we seek to impress a macro drinker with the latest smoked jalapeno IPA, it’s going to be a non-starter more often than not.

    Jim, here’s the other thing, and I know it has occurred to you: What is local, and what does local mean? If we want to make local inroads, and sell locally made beer locally, where’s the boundary on it? My personal opinion: The more geographically local the better when it comes to draft, and numerous exceptions granted for bottles.

    Heckuva topic.

    Comment by Roger A. Baylor — June 28, 2010 @ 4:42 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Jim — you’ve hit the topic that made our collective book, True Brew : A Guide to Indiana Craft Breweries, a reality. You said, “Put a face with the beer” and that’s one of the legs of this centipede a.k.a locally brewed. And Roger is equally on to it– we need to introduce the macro beer drinker to the fine tuned concept that drinking local is a matter of civic pride. It’s not just supporting a local industry and giving jobs to people who live where I live and putting that money back into the collective well-being of our community. It’s also a matter of valuing who we are and where it is we live and work. It’s local pride, like in the good old days when we supported the neighborhood brewing pub–it was where we met our neighbors, took our families and went alone for a chat. AND, it’s about being smart about matters of healthful well being. Craft beer is a quality food product. We don’t have to over-indulge to enjoy the complexity, savor the good feeling for our taste buds. A pint of craft is more worthy than many pints of bland.
    As a consumer, it’s my responsibility to talk about why I enjoy quality. Roger has it right that our breweries and brew pubs have to expand the conversation from hop heads to hello everybody– let’s make brews to entice and excite the general public — let’s show how craft brews pair with our favorite foods to enhance the dining experience – let’s show how craft is the way to maintain quality life style. Let’s start with the idea that craft is a part of our human story from the Mesopotamian housewife who somehow stumbled into beer when she intended to make bread and thus discovered the first potable beverage, let’s mention the ancient cultures where beer has been a beverage of worship, let’s inspire the macro drinkers to taste a craft brew to suit his or her palate and move forward from there. We’re talking one person at a time. And anticipating a great deal of joy in the process.
    Hoosiers are open to local pride, common sense and good taste. Let’s start by mentioning how smart they are, and to that end they surely will want a pint of craft –close to what they’re now drinking but appreciably better, to make them aware of what they can have Alcatraz to Upland across our fine state.
    good cheer to all, Rita Kohn

    Comment by Rita Kohn — June 28, 2010 @ 8:27 pm | Reply

  3. Jim,

    What an awesome post. Seriously! If you EVERY need help playing this card let me know. Now don’t get me wrong though, I personally don’t only drink local, and my love for beer extends all the way through to the world, but a place that prides itself on local, and people who do as well, why not take that same passion and attitude towards the beer?

    I mean, it’s not water after all. It’s not just a leaf you dunk in your hot water etc. The amount of time, work, effort, and serious passion that does into brewing seriously good craft beer is equal to if not a bit exceeding that of raising crops or live stock. So then why not give it the same respect and thought?

    It’s simply a perception thing…nothing more I think. The change needs to come in the way people perceive beer in general. And the understanding of course that Bud Light isn’t really beer…

    On the owner…well I think he was more offended that out of everything he had, he couldn’t offer you anything. Probably more of a pride thing. Throw in the fact that other patrons were listening in and maybe he was getting just a bit erked.


    Comment by Ilya Feynberg — July 14, 2010 @ 3:11 pm | Reply

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