Good Beer Hunting

TRVE Brewing Adds The Commons to its Distribution Roster

TRVE Brewing Company, Denver's resident metalhead beer makers, recently announced that they'll be the Colorado distribution partner for The Commons Brewery, importing their beer from Portland, OR into the Centennial State.

The Commons joins Asheville's Burial Beer Co., who entered into a similar distribution deal with TRVE in advance of the 2016 Great American Beer Festival.

"Both of these breweries we're working with are not solely launching this market," TRVE's Nick Nunns explains. "They are sending us single shipments right now. The agreement's in place, that, if they wanted to down the road, they could send us more."

The deal expands, however slightly, on an intriguing distribution model based largely on convenience and a shared culture. The Commons and Burial alike maintain a roster of beers similar in style and influence to those of TRVE—subtle, nuanced brews that are mostly yeast-driven.

"TRVE's eclectic beer lineup and pure enjoyment of things beer and beyond fits in with our 'Gather Around Beer' ethos," The Commons' Josh Grgas says. "Having a small brewery represent us gives us an ally and friend in the Colorado market."

Beyond the cultural alignment, TRVE's commitment to quality adds some peace of mind to the equation. "Being able to share a little bit of our beer with fans in Colorado is an exciting opportunity," says Mike Wright, founder of The Commons. "And doing so in partnership with TRVE allows us to rest easy. We know TRVE will represent us well and take care of our beer away from home."

TRVE's foray into the distribution side of the business came after their own experiences of sending beer far from home. Recent events in Massachusetts, North Carolina, and D.C. forced TRVE to look beyond their self-distribution model in Denver. What Nunns realized along the way was that pre-selling beer into a market through a distributor is a great excuse to party somewhere new.

"It's a great way for us to afford to go hang out in another part of the country," he explains. "From a marketing perspective, it's kind of like going on tour, which is right in our wheelhouse. We set up a bunch of events ahead of time, go out there, and all the beer is basically pre-sold before we even have to think about plane tickets."

TRVE took note of that approach and looked for ways to help other breweries do the same thing. They quickly realized the hurdles to getting their importer's license were fairly small, and would allow them to bring out-of-state beer into Colorado at the wholesale level. The resulting contracts with Burial and The Commons are low-stakes, and extremely brewer-friendly.

"All the agreements that we're signing with these guys are totally open-ended," Nunns explains. "If they want to get out, go for it. No harm, no foul. What we really want to do is bring in people we think are making cool beer and open Colorado's eyes a little bit."

Knowing that the production of both The Commons and Burial is fairly limited, Nunns isn't looking at the operation as cash cow. Instead, it allows a surplus to be put to good use, and serve as prolonged toe-dip into a new market. Or, as a deliberate financing operation for events like GABF. Either way, it's completely up to the discretion and preference of the brewers. As such, TRVE doesn't have any firm plans to scale up on the distro side.

"As far as the growth plan for this thing, I'm just gonna see where it goes," Nunns explains. "If other breweries are interested in coming out here and working with us on that, we'd love to do it."

It does beg the question, however: will we start to see more small distribution operations popping up solely to serve the wants and whims of industry friends? (That is, in states that allow such a thing, of course.) And if so, what sort of effect will these drop-ship micro-importers have on the U.S. distribution trends overall?

—Kyle Kastranec