It’s 3pm on a Wednesday and I’m sitting in the backyard of Duvel-Moortgat USA’s Chicago Market Manager, Andrew Berlanstein. It's one of the first truly perfect days in Chicago this year and we're feeling good.
I love hanging out with Andrew because while he's friendly and welcoming, he’s not afraid to look you in the eye and “tell it like it is.” He's also been in the beer business for seven years, which, in our world, is a long time. In other words, he's a great person to have a beer with.
We get to our five questions over Ginger-Lemon Radlers from Boulevard Brewing Company.
What are you drinking?
I’m drinking Ginger-Lemon Radler from Boulevard Brewing Company. It’s a 4.1% American Wheat Ale with lemon juice and ginger added and it’s a really, really good beer. It’s not a style that I normally drink -- I’ve never been one for Radlers until I tasted this beer. I was at a bar with a big patio and it was like 4:30 in the afternoon and it was warm and sunny… sometimes there’s a beer and a place and a right time -- and everything just comes together. I remember telling my co-workers, "It’s almost as if this beer were brewed for right now."
I should be in marketing.
What's one fact we can't Google about you?
Bagels. I love making my own bagels. Well, I love bagels. I love eating them, I love smelling them, I love buying them and seeking them out. And making them is fun too. It’s hard. It comes from my history. I mean, I’m jewish and there were a lot of bagels in my house growing up. My parents are from New York and New Jersey -- big bagel culture. Every Sunday when all the Christian people went to church, the Jewish people had bagels and invited their friends over. And then when I moved here, there were no good bagels to be found, so I started making them.
How do you explain your job to your mother?
My mother will say that I work for a Belgian beer company and I manage the sales in Chicago, which is entirely accurate. But it’s funny because I’ve been in the beer industry for seven years with four different jobs and so the way I’ve explained it to my Mom has changed over time. You also kind of need to know that growing up, I was one of those kids that had phases… I still do… I would get really into video production and for two years all I did was video production and then all of the sudden I was like, “you know what, music production’s actually pretty cool” and then, “oh, you know what, making beer at home is pretty cool so maybe I can get into breweries!” So for a long time that was her assumption - “oh, this is interesting, it could just be one of those phases.”
I used to send her articles in like 2008 when there weren't a ton of these articles that were like, “Craft Beer On The Rise, Breweries Making a Comeback, etc”. At that point I was graduating college and I started working at Sam Adams and I was like, “This is what I want to do. This is it.” It was when I got the second job at Harpoon Brewery doing sales that she realized it might not just be a phase. It was full-time, salary and benefits -- and that’s what did it for her. When both her kids had full-time jobs with salaries and benefits at real companies she was like, “I’m done. My kids made it.” Ever since then she’s taken it pretty legitimately as a profession.
She really does have no idea what a day in the life of a Market Manager for Duvel-Moortgat is. That’s fine. It’s not that exciting, is the truth. A lot of what we do is answer emails, make phone calls, check logistics and inventory, do expenses -- boring stuff. The fun stuff is what you see on Facebook. Which is another part of working in craft beer, right? Putting stuff on Facebook so other people in craft beer know you’re doing stuff too?
What makes the beer industry so exciting?
That gets down to the key reasons why people join the beer industry in the first place. There are like-minded, creative, progressive, interesting people working along side you and that’s a very appealing thing. It’s also cool. It’s really fun to have a cool job so that when people ask what you do, you have a cool answer. I’m not afraid to admit that. It’s cooler than selling life insurance -- if you’re going to be in sales, there’s not a lot of cool stuff you can sell in the world so you might as well sell something cool. I do love restaurants and food and the service industry -- those are my people. There’s some tie in there. So that’s part of it too.
What makes the beer industry so frustrating?
That’s a long answer so strap in. I mean, it’s a hard thing to sum up in a fluid thought but what’s frustrating about it is how complicated it is. It’s complicated on many, many levels.
It’s complicated on the consumer level. Consumers are fickle. The internet plays a huge role in craft beer - the RateBeer score for any given beer, or whether it’s being talked about on Beer Advocate, or if it’s hard to get, or on a list, or not on a list... There are so many thousands of beers available right now so your odds of having one that’s truly in demand for consumers is very low.
It’s then pretty much directly complicated for retailers who are trying to cater to those consumers. They don’t have the time that beer drinkers have to spend on the internet reading and keeping up with craft beer. It’s constantly evolving. So retailers are frustrated because they don't know what they’re supposed to keep and what they’re not supposed to keep. They carry too many beers, too many of which don’t sell well, and then they run into freshness issues. There’s pricing issues -- they don’t get the same deal that the big liquor store gets and they can’t charge as low a price. They don’t have as many customers so they have to take more out of every purchase. Having it complicated for the retailers makes it complicated for the distributor sales reps.
If you’re a sales rep for a distributor, you’re being screamed at from a thousand directions. You’ve got your boss telling you, “sell this.” You’ve got brewery reps telling you, “sell that.” You’ve got some incentive program that you want to get paid for that sells some other thing. And then you’ve got the retailers asking you for Zombie Dust which you don’t sell.
There’s just all these forces working against each other and in different directions. It’s disjointed… I’m managing thrice removed from the beer drinker’s experience. I’m trying to get the distributor to do the right thing so the retailer will buy it, so that the customers are more likely to know what it is.
It’s cool and it’s fun and it’s interesting and it’s fast paced -- but the tradeoff is that it’s an extremely complicated business, selling a highly regulated product. It’s just complicated.