Good Beer Hunting

Boulevard Vet Starts New Craft Beer Field Quality Business

A 19-year veteran of Boulevard Brewing has branched out to start a new company of his own in hopes of answering one simple question: “Who is taking care of your beer outside the brewery?” Founded by Neil Witte, who oversaw field quality and training at Boulevard and Duvel Moortgat USA for more than a decade and a half, Craft Quality Solutions is purported to be the nation’s first business that provides “scalable, market-based quality audits and services” to all three tiers of the craft beer industry.

“Assuring the quality of beer from the time it leaves the brewery to the moment it gets to the consumer is widely recognized to be critically important, yet it’s often neglected,” Witte says. “Most craft brewers are concerned about maintaining the integrity of their beer through the distribution and retail channels, but many lack the resources to commit to a full-time field quality representative. Craft Quality Solutions aims to help fill that gap.”

Savvy drinkers know that beer is a fickle beverage, subject to the whims of its handlers. No less, dirty draft lines, out-of-code product, and otherwise improperly stored beer plague the marketplace, in even the most educated of craft havens. And it’s true: quality is preached to the point of cliché at every beer industry meet-up you’ve ever sat through. At the same time, shelf space is tightening and the nation’s restaurants and bars are playing one-in/one-out with their tap lines, like a mad bouncer. Still, Witte sees field quality control as “a huge unmet need in the industry.”

“It’s kind of amazing to me,” Witte tells GBH, “that there’s so little attention paid to the beer between the time it leaves the brewery and the time it ends up in the consumers hands.”

The company itself is set up to provide services on a contract basis, and Witte hopes to eventually grow the operation to have field reps spread out in different markets (he’s based in Kansas City and plans to travel to attend to client needs). As for the cost of those services, Witte wouldn’t provide GBH with a price structure, adding the costs would vary depending on the services a client needs. 
And that’s a fairly stacked menu. Clients can have Witte provide top to bottom reports on their most important accounts, assess their needs on competitive pricing, train their salespeople, evaluate draft systems, and more—including helping out beer adjacent businesses. (“Maybe a grocery chain might wanna do a full regional assessment of the beer set,” he suggests.)
Ultimately, Witte hopes he can leverage his experience and expertise (he’s a Master Cicerone) to help alleviate the burden many companies simply don’t have the resources to address.
“The responsibility for brewers that don’t have a dedicated person falls on their sales team,” he says. “Depending on the brewery, the brewery culture, and a number of things, they may do a good job at it, and in some instances, they’re just super busy and it’s just gonna be a mixed bag with results.” 
Because as cliché—and oftentimes indefinable—as quality has become, it’s still one of the most important attributes of craft beer, and is only becoming more important. 
“We’re approaching 5,000 breweries in the U.S.,” Witte adds. “Whatever might happen in the future, if you don’t have the best quality beer, you’re at a disadvantage, and it’s gonna be really hard to compete.” 
—Dave Eisenberg