America’s three-tier distribution system for beverage alcohol has eroded at the edges in recent years, but it remains largely intact.
The post-Prohibition regulatory model was designed to separate producers (brewers, distillers, vintners) from direct involvement in retail sales by inserting a wholesaler middleman into the transaction.
Nowadays the most obvious exceptions to the three-tier norm are small brewers and winemakers, who are allowed to sell directly to the public from their tap rooms and tasting areas.
In 35 states (including Indiana) some form of self-distribution is allowed. For instance, so far at Pints&union I’ve purchased directly from the Donum Dei brewery, which is perfectly legal because we’re all situated in Indiana. Conversely, to buy from a Louisville brewery would require the beer to be handled by a licensed wholesaler in Indiana.
All this is prelude to today being a momentous and perhaps even an historic occasion, because for the first time since 2002 (or thereabouts) I’ll be accepting delivery of a keg of beer for resale at Pints&union via the beer wholesaler known as LC Nadorff and Son.
Therein lies a brief story about the way that one’s point of view evolves over time. To begin, I subscribe to the Pour Fool theory of a beer drinker’s (and beer vendor’s) life.
Why sugarcoat it? Everyone knows my feelings about the matter, and historically, Nadorff as a wholesaler has been what we would call a “Bud House,” with a measure of territorial exclusivity for the distribution of Anheuser-Busch brands (and later the merged AB-InBev range).
Start with decades of personal antipathy toward Budweiser, and add into the mix a long tenure at NABC’s Pizzeria & Public House devoted to purging mainstream beers from the premises, it’s easy to see why there came a point in time roughly two decades ago when there was little interaction between Roger and LC Nadorff.
It wasn’t that I ever had anything against Nadorff, because they’ve always been pleasant people. However, as befits the position of any beer wholesaler in America, Nadorff always occupied the very middle of the chain between a multinational brewing conglomerate and a publican who despised the conglomerate.
When NABC began brewing its own beer, we made the decision to eliminate mass-market beers from the building. As such, Nadorff was taken out of the loop.
But here’s the thing.
I might well be included on AB-InBev’s “enemies” list, but I’m also a strident supporter of independent local businesses, and while Nadorff’s bread and butter always has been the AB-InBev portfolio, it remains a family-owned firm with deep roots in New Albany — so much so that 120 years ago there was a Nadorff family brewery in town.
Six or seven years ago when NABC did a beer tasting event on behalf of the Carnegie Center museum we were positioned adjacent to Nadorff’s table. I began chatting with Jason Mott, a youthful member of the founding family. This was prior to AB-InBev’s various “craft” brewery acquisitions, but we had a good conversation and I finally began considering Nadorff in the context of localism.
At this juncture I was full-tilt with trying to sell NABC-brewed beers, and subsequently there was my departure from the company, followed by years in the wilderness contemplating next steps. Resurfacing as Joe’s beer director at Pints&union, I was at the pub one morning earlier this year when in walked Jason, accompanied by the area sales rep for Cincinnati’s Rhinegeist.
There’d have been a time when Nadorff’s contract with AB-InBev might have excluded the presence of an American “craft” brewer like Rhinegeist, but times have changed, and we had yet another delightful talk. These days Nadorff carries beer from a few small Indiana brewers and imported brands as well as Rhinegeist and the AB-InBev acquisitions (Goose Island, Elysian, et al).
I expressed interest in occasional draft visitations with Rhinegeist’s brands, which brings me full circle to this afternoon, when Nadorff will drop off a sixth-barrel of Rhinegeist Ruby Paradox, a “fruited sour dark ale.”
That’s right, fruited sour dark ale from the Bud Light handlers, but the Bud Light handlers are the local New Albany guys, and at this point in my life it’s a distinction that matters to me. Whatever the merits and demerits of the three-tier system, the fact remains that at least in Indiana, there aren’t many wholesalers like Nadorff still standing.
While it’s probably impossible to be a true “underdog” conveying AB-InBev products, in wholesaler terms Nadorff is scrambling like all the rest to find their place in the crazy quilt of the Post-Craft Beer Era.
Owing to the nature of the beer program we’re trying to build at Pint&union — traditionalist, with occasional flights of fancy — I can’t predict how often we’ll be pouring Nadorff’s portfolio, and yet it’s invigorating to renew a local connection.
We need more of that, not less, so cheers to a renewed acquaintance.