Steven helping out a customer

Bond Ride-Along

HoCo Beer Distribution

Have you ever wondered how beer magically appears in bars and liquor stores? Well, the secret sauce that moves beer from brewers to retailers is wholesale distributors. To learn about beer distribution, I spent the day tagging along with my friend, Steven Wilson, who is the craft beer rep for Bond Distributing. Bond Distributing and other wholesale distributors are one tier of the post-prohibition three-tier system of alcohol distribution. The three tiers are:

  1. importers or producers (breweries and distilleries),
  2. wholesale distributors (warehouses and delivery trucks) and
  3. retailers (bars and liquor stores).

Producers sell to distributors who sell to retailers. All 50 U.S. states still use the three-tier system, although, in the State of Washington, retailers can legally purchase directly from producers.

Bond Distributing

Bond delivery truck
Bond delivery truck

Bond Distributing is located in southwest Baltimore. This family owned business was established 66-years ago in Fells Point. They distribute for the big boys: Miller, Coors, Pabst and Yuengling as well as Bells, Harpoon, Jailbreak, Brewer’s Art, Monument City, DuClaw, Flying Dog, Charm City Mead Works, and Key Brewing, just to name a few. Their main competitors are Chesapeake and Legend, as well as smaller distributors Katcef Brothers and Backup Beverage.

Steven’s territory is Howard and Carroll County. His job involves a lot of driving, talking on the phone, meeting buyers at their businesses, putting orders into an application called Encompass, and occasionally tracking down lost orders. He also puts on a few events each month, like tastings and beer dinners. With all the breweries and their products (many of which are seasonal), he must keep their inventories in his head while talking to all those retailers who want to buy craft beer.

So, I was lucky enough to spend a day with Steven. Our first stop was in River Hill.

River Hill Sports Grille

Sam at River Hill Sports Grille
Sam at River Hill Sports Grille

The River Hill Sports Grille has 24 televisions for all their sports watching patrons. The Grille is located in Clarksville, MD in the River Hill Village of Columbia. Although they do sell macro beers like Blue Moon, Miller Lite, and Stella Artois, with a buyer named Sam Smith, you know craft beers must be involved.  Their list of beers is surprisingly diverse for a sports bar.

Steven had already received River Hill’s order electronically. Our visit today was mostly to say hello to their new buyer, Sam. As Steven said, Bond Distribution emphasizes the personal touch. Steven asked if she had any questions, told her about beers becoming available and I took a picture for the blog.

On the way out, we weaved through some construction for their new foyer. Our next stop, Frisco on Dobbin Road.

Frisco Tap House

Frisco taps
Some of Frisco’s  50+ taps

I first met Steven several years ago when he was the Frisco Tap House beer buyer. For Steven, this was like coming back home. He talked, laughed and joked with everyone in Howard County’s largest beer bar. With over 50 beers on tap, he spent quite a lot of time with Zack the buyer. They firmed up their next delivery and talked about Zack’s beer needs and what beers would be coming available from Bond.

Meanwhile, I talked with Ryan, Frisco’s own Push brewer. We finalized the plans for the Push brewery tour — #14 of the Maryland Brewery Challenge. You can read about that tour next week.

It took quite a while for Steven to wind his way out of Frisco, saying goodbye to everyone. Finally, out the door, we headed to the land of the Enchanted Forest. You can read more about  White Oak Tavern and the rest of my ride-along in my next post.

To be continued. 




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