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Michigan’s Founders Brewing Co. launching distribution in Memphis soon

March 14, 2014 By: mike Category: Breweries, Craft beer, Distribution, Memphis

Founders Brewing pint glassMichigan-based Founders Brewing Co., one of the top-rated craft breweries in the country, is coming soon to Memphis.

Founders is launching distribution in the Bluff City through Budweiser of Memphis in a matter of weeks. The brewery and distributor celebrated Thursday night with a small party at Local Gastropub in Midtown, giving a lucky few a sneak peek at Founders’ offerings.

Austin Sawyer, import, craft and specialty brand manager for Budweiser of Memphis, predicted the Founders arrival would be “one of the biggest craft (beer) launches in Memphis in 2014. … They really put an emphasis on quality.”

Founders is set to start distribution here between March 31 and April 4, Sawyer said. At the start, the Grand Rapids, Michigan, beer will be available on draft-only at bars and restaurants. But 30 days later, bottles and cans will also be available for sale in stores.

Founders’ Pale Ale and All Day IPA Session Ale — both lower-gravity beers — will be available in grocery stores. Liquor stores will have Founders’ higher-gravity Centennial IPA, Porter and Curmudgeon Old Ale. Sawyer said Founders’ limited and specialty beers will be available on a very limited basis in Memphis in 2014.

All Day IPA

All Day IPA, which is Founders’ flagship beer and a 2010 GABF Silver Medal Winner, will be available in packages of 15 cans that should sell for about $17.99 at most stores. It’s a full-flavored beer that impresses with its hop character and low ABV, clocking in at just 4.7%. You could drink several at a sitting and be just fine.

“All Day IPA is going to be the lead dog here,” predicted John Marchetti, Founders’ Southeast Regional Sales Director. Sales of the Centennial IPA, Pale and Porter should also be strong, he said.

Founders opened for business in 1997. The brewery recently finished its fourth expansion in five years, bringing its brewing capacity to 340,000 barrels a year.

“For the first time in our history, we have excess capacity,” Marchetti said, adding that Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana are being added to Founders’ distribution network in 2014. Florida and Texas were added last year.

When Founders launches in Memphis, it will also roll out at the same time in Nashville through Bounty Bev, and it will soon make its way to other parts of the state.

Brooklyn Brewery to start distribution in Memphis in February

December 19, 2012 By: mike Category: Craft beer, Distribution, Memphis

Brooklyn Brewery LogoBeers from New York’s celebrated Brooklyn Brewery are headed to the Memphis area in February as part of a new distribution deal with Budweiser of Memphis.

Select beers from Brooklyn Brewery will be available on draft and in packages starting Feb. 4. Memphis will be getting the Brooklyn Lager, Brooklyn Brown Ale, Brooklyn East India Pale Ale and Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, said Austin Sawyer, import, craft and specialty brand manager for Budweiser of Memphis.

“We’ve been pursuing them for awhile now,” Sawyer said. “We’re pretty excited.”

The beers will be found in restaurants and craft beer bars, liquor stores (high-gravity beers) and grocery stores (low-gravity beers).

Sawyer said there will Brooklyn Brewery tastings and kick-off parties in February to celebrate the release, with representatives of Brooklyn Brewery coming to Memphis.

Earlier this year, Brooklyn Brewery ranked No. 13 on the Brewers Association’s annual list of Top 50 Craft Brewing Companies in the United States, based on 2011 beer sales volume.

Craft beer transition: a Q&A with Budweiser of Memphis’ Austin Sawyer

November 19, 2012 By: mike Category: Breweries, Craft beer, Distribution, Memphis

Austin Sawyer of Budweiser of Memphis

Austin Sawyer, of Budweiser of Memphis, with a growler of Ghost River Brewing’s 1887 IPA.

The craft beer business in Memphis is in the midst of a major shake-up, one that may make lovers of hand-crafted Belgian beers, stouts and IPAs a bit nervous. After more than a decade as Memphis’ craft distribution pioneer, Southwestern Distributing recently sold its beer business to the Hand Family Companies. As a result, Budweiser of Memphis, which is owned by the Hand family, has taken over Southwestern’s craft portfolio, including Stone Brewing Co., Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Rogue Ales, Yazoo Brewing Co., Abita Brewing Co., Red Brick Brewing Co and Memphis’ Ghost River Brewing Co. Those brands join Budweiser of Memphis’ existing craft brands, from New Belgium Brewing to Magic Hat Brewing Company to Blackstone Brewery, as well as domestic brands like Budweiser and Bud Light. So what’s going to happen to all those beers from Southwestern’s portfolio? How will Budweiser of Memphis balance its craft brands with its mass-produced AnheuserBusch products? Austin Sawyer, import, craft and specialty brand manager for Budweiser of Memphis, has heard all those questions, and he says Mid-South craft beer drinkers should not fret. He sat down at the Downtown Flying Saucer with FuzzyBrew to talk about the craft beer transition in Memphis and to share some of Budweiser of Memphis’ big plans.


Give us the back story behind the sale of Southwestern’s beer business to the Hand Family Companies and what has transpired in the last few weeks.

Georgia Crown purchased United Liquors a couple of years ago, and then they came in and bought the liquor division of Southwestern. At that time … the beer side became available. Obviously they’ve got a great portfolio. They’ve done a great job establishing those craft brands. They came in in the 90s, really before the market was ready for craft, and they did great things with it and really got it going. We got our first venture into craft at the Budweiser wholesaler five years ago with New Belgium … and it really opened our eyes up to what that movement was. Ever since then we’ve picked up breweries such as Magic Hat, Yuengling … We started going after some other players. We started hunting the breweries across the country. … We got Blackstone Brewery out of Nashville. Those guys produce some great liquid. We really like what they’re doing, so we got them on board.

Budweiser of Memphis logoWhen the Southwestern beer portion became available, our owner J.R. Hand was obviously very in tune to what is going on with the craft beer movement. He was very excited about the opportunity, and here we are now. He purchased that beer division of the company, and we moved forward with it. From there, three weeks ago we merged their low-gravity brands in house, sold under Budweiser of Memphis. And (for) all the high-gravity, we opened up a new company called West Tennessee Beverage, which is a subsidiary of Budweiser of Memphis servicing all the liquor stores and bars and restaurants with high-alcohol licenses. Just beers at this point. We’re servicing Shelby County and Memphis with all low- and high-gravity brands and we’ll be servicing Jackson, Tipton and Dyer counties with high-gravity brands.

How long have you been with the company?

I’ve been the craft manager here at Budweiser of Memphis for two years now. I took it over right when the Hands took over the company. It was a new position that they added because of how excited they were with the craft beer movement and wanted to get involved. We’ve got a great team over there…and when we absorbed the Southwestern brands, obviously our portfolio quadrupled. … When you’re selling against these brands for years, you see what works and you’re so envious of those things. Now we’re like, ‘All right, how do we take what they did and build on that as a stronger and more efficient organization?’ … Opening up this liquor store division is definitely interesting. I know all the liquor stores in Memphis that have spoken with us are overly excited about the fact that we’re just selling high-alcohol beer. The beer consumer in Memphis is so thirsty for what’s new, and the rare stuff, and these great breweries, and with this new portfolio, we can offer that.

Here’s the question that all the beer nerds in Memphis want to know — how are you going to balance the sale of craft beer versus Anheuser-Busch products?

At the end of the day, I’m never going to sit here and tell you I’m going to forget about Bud Light. At the end of the day, we’re in the South and it’s the No. 1 domestic beer brand in the market. It’s what pays the bills. But at the same time, I realize and the ownership group realizes that craft beer … isn’t a fad. This is what’s here to stay. … Everybody in our company has bought into the craft beer movement.

Do you think the shelf space for craft beer across Memphis will be increasing?

Without a doubt. I will say that’s where our company excels throughout the years, on execution and brand roll-outs. And that’s why we’ve picked up some of the juggernauts over the years such as New Belgium and Yuengling. They go with a high-execution company. I think if you look at what Sierra Nevada has done in this market, it’s very underdeveloped at this point. … I don’t think at the end of the day it’s going to come from cutting domestic. Not everybody knows what works in this market. Our guys are very good at identifying what works with the right accounts. … One of the hottest items in grocery right now is a ‘pick six,’ create your own six-pack. I think a lot of convenience stores are going to go toward that. And that’s going to offer consumers a lot more craft sampling opportunities. … I think you’re going to see more expansion of ‘single serve,’ the big bombers. Core brand six-packs I think have a lot of room to grow. Between Abita, Rogue, Stone, Victory, Ghost River and Yazoo, I think those are all pretty well seeded in grocery, but I think (there’s room for expansion) in convenience stores.

Will Budweiser of Memphis be getting rid of any of the beers from the Southwestern portfolio?

Not at all, and that’s been a big concern from a lot of consumers. … In the craft beer world today, I have my go-to beers … but I’m all about trying what’s new and what’s hot. … I think you see more style loyalists now a-days. There’s not much brand loyalty in the craft beer world, and that’s why it’s great to have the diverse portfolio that we do. … People have those niche beers they love. We’re not killing them, we’re keeping them around. People are going to realize that we’re doing things the right way.

I know there are people that have reservations about us taking over all these brands, but I think over the last few weeks that we’ve shown people that we’re committed to keeping up with Southwestern’s local service and really trying to exceed all those goals and continue to bring cool beer events to the city.

We’re still under way in the transition, we’re less than a month in and we announced that we’re going to host Memphis Beer Week. With all the trials and tribulations going on in house, we have a full fledged marketing plan put together … with how we’re going to launch Memphis Beer Week. We’re committed to bringing cool stuff to the city.

SweetWater - exterior

SweetWater Brewing Company in Atlanta

Does Budweiser of Memphis have plans to bring in regional brands that are not available in Memphis now, such as SweetWater Brewing Company, Back Forty Beer Co. and Good People Brewing Company?

Oh, 100 percent. Some of those I can talk about, some I can’t. There’s still competition to get those. You still have to do your pitch like you’re a car salesman and try to get the best breweries in. But we feel like we have a strong craft beer culture built in our house. It’s pretty apparent when you visit us, our warehouse, listen in on the sales meetings, and craft is dominant in terms of what we’re talking about. … As more breweries grow, we’re definitely interested in bringing anything regional here.

How do you feel about a local start-up company like High Cotton Brewing that will likely self distribute?

Our stance as a company … is that’s great. Obviously it’s competition for Ghost River, but the best competition you have is friendly competition. The guys at High Cotton are doing the same thing we’re trying to do. They’re trying to expand the beer culture in this city. Everybody knows local, regional craft is hot right now. If you’ve got some good beers and know what you’re doing like those guys, and you’ve got the desire and dream to start a brewery, more power to you. … I hope those guys make it….. We’re not going to go out and say, ‘Hey, don’t put their beer on.’ We know it’s Memphis and you’re going to carry Memphis beer, but we have the No. 1 Memphis beer right now, and we plan on keeping it that way for sure. We’re not going to openly invite to give up our (tap) handles, but I want those guys to succeed.

Ghost River BrewingWhere does Ghost River Brewing fit into your plans, and do you see it expanding?

Ghost River is producing consistent, quality craft (beer) and really correlates well with the local consumer. … As they expand and add new tanks at the brewery, obviously what Memphis is clamoring for right now is another flavor in bottles. … Obviously that’s going to be their next opportunity for huge growth. Their seasonal draft business is great. … It’s one of the fastest selling drafts around. We’re doing three pick-ups a week from Ghost River. … Memphians support Memphis things.

Can you give me an idea about new products craft beer drinkers in Memphis can expect to see in the upcoming year?

Not a chance! I wish I could! There’s some great ones coming. There’s some good commitments in line. People will be very excited about what’s coming in 2013, but I can’t expand more than that.

How about Goose Island, which has been bought by Anheuser Busch and is supposed to be coming to all 50 states soon?

Goose Island is coming Nov. 26. Two brands, draft only — the IPA and the Honker’s Ale. Hopefully, the high-alcohol stuff will follow in 2013.

What do you think about the sale of Southwestern Distributing’s beer business? And what beer brands would you like to see come to Memphis? Leave a comment below.

Save the date: inaugural ‘Memphis Beer Week’ coming April 21-27 in 2013

November 16, 2012 By: mike Category: Breweries, Craft beer, Events, Homebrew, Memphis

Memphis beer lovers will have a whole week in 2013 to celebrate their beloved suds.

The inaugural “Memphis Beer Week,” featuring beer events every day, is coming to Memphis on April 21-27.

Budweiser of Memphis logoThe week will be presented by Budweiser of Memphis, which recently acquired the craft beer portfolio of Southwestern Distributing. Southwestern’s beer business was sold to Budweiser of Memphis’ parent company, Hand Family Companies.

Memphis Beer Week will kick off with a big party on Sunday, April 21, and throughout the week there will be rare keg tappings, firkins, beer dinners, meet-the-brewer nights, vertical tastings and other events at bars and restaurants around town.

It all culminates on April 27 with the 4th annual Memphis Brewfest at AutoZone Park, “the biggest and baddest festival in town,” said Austin Sawyer, import, craft and specialty brand manager for Budweiser of Memphis.

Memphis Beer Week is still in the planning stages, and a charity partner for the week is still being firmed up. But Sawyer said there will be a “full-out marketing campaign behind it. We’re going to do it right.”

In addition to Budweiser of Memphis’ brands, which now include Ghost River Brewing and Yazoo Brewing Company, Sawyer hopes to involve local homebrewers and as many local and regional craft breweries as possible.

“We’ll do some vertical tastings and beer dinners that your entry-level craft consumer … is going to be excited about. Then we’re going to have the geeky events that I’m going to be all over.”

Check back here for more details as Memphis Beer Week gets closer, and be sure to follow Memphis Beer Week on Twitter at @memphisbeerweek.