Over the years many books have been written about the beer industry. The majority of which have dealt with the industry’s history by focusing on brands, breweries, individuals, and historic cities including Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. One such historical piece was written by Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew. Other books have centered on brands and importers from a more personal perspective, including Bitter Brew, by William Knoedelseder, which told the story of the rise and fall of AB. The Beer Monopoly, written by Ina Verstl and Ernst Faltermeier delineated the history of Interbrew’s transformation into InBev and the subsequent takeover of AB and the evolution of AB-InBev. All these books dealt with historic events which have shaped the beer industry and made it what it is today.
But why are there no books written on the history of beer distributors? Outside the NBWA, which represents the middle tier, not much has been written or acknowledgement given to beer distributors. One can glean the number of employees, tax dollars, community involvement, and other key metrics that wholesalers contribute to America through the NBWA site.
The industry has been built on the backbone of beer distributors since the repeal of prohibition. There is very little, however, on the wholesalers’ history. The consolidation of the middle tier means much of this valuable part of the beer industry has lost something. . Wholesalers, as with breweries and brands, are losing a segment of their history.
GLI, a successful distributor created in 1982 with the purchase of the second largest Schlitz distributor in San Antonio, just announced it was selling out to Glazer’s Beer and Beverage. GLI survived all these years without MC or AB in their house. Another longtime wholesaler in Chicago, Skokie Valley, owned by the same family for four generations, sold out last year. Skokie Valley, like GLI, did not have MC or AB brands. They survived with Modelo, Old Style and other high-end crafts and NA’s. GLI, became successful through the distribution of Shiner, Dox Equis, Boston Beers, and other high-end crafts, but the distributor was also was one of Pabst largest distributors with Lone Star. Both these distributors, along with others still around like Skokie Valley and GLI, were successful growing their business, but have at some point decided the time was right to move on.
Each time one of these distributors sells out, the industry loses a little piece of itself. These companies were family-owned and their employees were part of their family. One could say it was the “little guys” against the “big guys.” Such a culture is not evident in today’s mega wholesalers. Someday a book will be written about the importance and history of beer distributors. It is the least the industry can do to remember how it once was.
He who refuses to learn deserves extinction.