In The Beer Business & The Importance of Telling My Story

With a blog title like “WeBeerlongTogether”, you had to have known that it was only a matter of time before I joined forces with beer in my career path, officially giving beer authority of most of my waking hours. (And we all know I dream about beer, too, so there’s really no escape.) It’s been  4 months now.  And I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.

After training, It was ten incredibly long weeks of 70-hour work weeks, living in hotels while myself and six others rolled out our beer to brand new territories covering the whole state of North Carolina as well as Eastern Tennessee.

I was fucking exhausted. I was literally waking up in the morning, selling beer all day, running to an event, and then sometimes another event right after it. And then I would get back to my hotel or my house, sleep, and repeat. But you know what? I didn’t have a single bad day at work. (Well, except for when I found out I failed my Certified Cicerone test…)

Rolling out beer to an entire state and a half and meeting a zillion new people a day who you have to build relationships with and constantly impress was incredibly exhausting. But it was even more incredibly rewarding.

I found myself smiling and being excited all the time. Seriously. I loved getting a hard sell. I loved getting an easy sell because people were honestly remarkably receptive to Devils Backbone coming into NC.  I loved learning from the distributors. I loved pushing a few of them to learn about us, too. Hell, I was still learning about us! (As I still am!) And I really enjoyed changing people’s minds when we gave samples of our beer to bar patrons.

These are my people. And this is where I belong. Devils Backbone has me drinkin’ the Kool-Aid.

I remember not long after starting this new job, a beer geek friend from back home asked me if he could still expect unbiased blog posts from me now that I was in the industry. I gave him my definite and resounding “Yes!”

I’ll give you all the long version, which is a resounding “yes” as well. (And you should know by now that even my short versions of things aren’t exactly brief. So, buckle up! It’s story time.)

I remember very clearly, during my last week in eighth grade (That’s right! It’s THAT kind of long Janee story!), our school guidance counselor (We’ll call her “Mrs. K.”) came to meet with our small class of 10  one last time. She had a survey for us all to fill out, and I suppose she wanted to impart her “guidance” on us one last time before we left our small school to head into the real world of high school. 

We had completed our surveys and were going over our answers out loud. The final question was read. “True or false? You can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it.”

We all answered in unison, “True.”

“Wrong,” said Mrs. K. “Just because you want to grow up to be a doctor doesn’t mean that you’re smart enough to be one.”

Some of us started to argue, and Mrs. K. said, “Well what if you’re in a wheelchair, and you want to be a football player?” 

And just like that, our time with our beloved, chain smoking, absent-minded guidance counselor was up. I’m sure she continued on to lead, counsel, and inspire many…

I think we were all pissed. I knew she was wrong. I believe that with all of my heart and more importantly, my head, still today. If you want something badly enough, you’ll make it happen.

I would love to have Mrs. K. know that my husband’s friend lost both of his legs and, after that, decided he wanted to ride a bicycle across the United States. And he did. I really hope she’s not continuing to tell kids that the answer to that question is still false.

My takeaway from the story here is to be your own unstoppable person and to have your own voice. You can do anything you want to do if you want it badly enough and work hard enough to get it.

With that being said, what do we have if we don’t have a voice?

You will always hear my story. This my story with beer. That includes the good and the bad. That includes the Certified Cicerone test failure. And hopefully, it will include the Certified Cicerone test success soon! 

I take the test again on November 10th! (ONE WEEK AWAY!!!) That means I’ll likely find out right before Christmas if I passed. So pray to the beer gods that this time will be a success!

Back to the point of transparency, when I interviewed for my job, my post on Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercial from this year came up. “You’ll be working side by side with people who distribute this beer. Budweiser essentially puts food on their table. Do you forsee that being an issue?”

I’ve had the incredible pleasure of working with a lot of people from a lot of different distributors. Devils Backbone works with Bud houses and with MillerCoors houses. These people are great people. Some of them won’t touch a Bud. Most of them will. And for some, that’s all that they drink.  

I’ve openly chatted with a few of these people about that blog post, in hopes to be transparent, to gain trust and hopefully, respect in the long run. It made me sad to hear that the few I talked to about the Budweiser ad were really hurt by the ad.

I walked into a restaurant with a distributor rep. named David from one of our Bud houses the other month to talk to the restaurant’s new beer buyer. After we introduced Devils Backbone to him, David was asked about the other brands the distributor could provide as the buyer explained that he wanted to migrate his inventory to be more craft beer focused. I enjoy these conversations, and often engage in support of some brands I love.

Goose Island was a brand that was mentioned, and the beer buyer said he wasn’t interested.

When David and I got back into his vehicle, he asked, “Why do you think he wasn’t interested in Goose Island?”

I think we both knew that the answer was because Goose Island is owned by AB InBev (Budweiser). AB InBev acquired  Goose Island several years ago, and they continue to purchase craft breweries. These breweries inevitably lose value in the eyes of some consumers.

This is the beer world we live in. We live in a world where buyers and distributors and brewery reps. alike are generally pretty cognizant of the world around them.

These distributors for the most part really want to see the good craft breweries excel. This is the future of their business. And that Budweiser commercial mocked all of those craft breweries. 

I’m glad I got the opportunity to be transparent and honest with a few distributor representatives about what could be a touchy subject. 

With that being said, I’ll continue to fight the good fight against”yellow fizzy shit”.  I won’t hold it against you if you’re drinking it. But expect that I’ll occasionally  challenge you. If that means putting a Devils Backbone Gold Leaf Lager into your hands, then awesome. If that means  introducing you to Shock Top (an AB InBev brand), then I’ll do that, too. And if that means cracking open a  vintage  barrel aged bottle I’ve been saving for year, then cheers, friend.

The world would be a boring place if we all just played it safe and didn’t challenge or  believe in anything. My goal has always been to never stop learning, and to share my love of beer with anyone willing to listen.

And now, you get to take the journey with me from inside the industry.

My new additional goal is to give you a picture of what that looks like.

I want to share with you that the three tier system isn’t just a necessary evil, as it often can be looked upon from the outside. There will always be advantages and disadvantages. (More on that later!)

I  want to talk to you about industry prejudices.

I want to let you know that relationships are one of the most important things in life, and I want to let you know how important these relationships are in the beer industry.  I spent an entire day  stocking  mostly Budweiser products in convenience stores  as I rode around with a distributor sales rep. in the market one day. One day when an account asks him if he has any good lager brands, hopefully the sales rep. will think of me and offer that account some Devils Backbone Vienna Lager.

I want to talk to you about industry camaraderie and how  fun it is to run into other brewery reps. in the market who share a mutual love and respect for beer.

I want to tell you that most of these encounters are great. And I want to tell you that for the one or two encounters outside the norm that have been bad, I’m actually thankful. We’re all ultimately competing  for  the same  space for our products. If you want to throw fuel on my sales fire, be my guest!

And I want to tell you how awesome it is to get to  do what you love every day. A few people in the industry have told me this exact same thing – If ever you come home from work and think you had a bad day, just remember, you get  to work in beer.

Stay tuned for what’s to come, friends. Cheers!

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