Brewery representatives help expand WV market for better beer

Fans of better beer owe a special debt of gratitude to three out-of-state craft breweries from our region that place West Virginia high in their market priorities. So high, in fact, that they each keep a full-time representative working and living here. 

Brewery Reps logos

These three are:

  • Country Boy Brewing of Lexington, Kentucky
    Representative: Josh Holland
  • New Belgium Brewing of Asheville, North Carolina
    Representative: Ron Stenger
  • Stone Brewing of Richmond, Virginia
    Representative: Jason Coleman

This is a big investment for these breweries, and it is much appreciated. It means so much to West Virginia getting promotional dollars flowing and the market growing. And a rising tide floats all boats. Wouldn’t it be nice if other major craft breweries followed suit?

Hard working Holland, Coleman, and Stenger 

If you get out to local craft beer venues much, you have surely run across Jason Coleman, Ron Stenger, or Josh Holland plying their trade. Whether it’s handing out schwag, buying beers, or just talking up their brands at tap takeovers and beer festivals, these guys are working hard to build their brands and grow the state’s craft beer market.

Having these guys based here helps our beer retailers and distributors too. It means lots more beer promo events at local bars and growler filling stations that, in turn, boost publicity and bring out the crowds.

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Ron Stenger, left, during a New Belgium tap takeover at Drug Emporium growler filling station. With Jason Stevens, store manager.

Doing retail events is something you have to like, if you have this kind of job. Take New Belgium’s Ron Stenger, who moved to WV to work for the brewery. He says he loves being a part of something that makes people smile.

“Fun for me is seeing our business partners, whether that be our distributors or our retail accounts, succeed at a higher level, both personally and professionally,” he said. “Having fun for me is introducing a person to our beer for the first time, then explaining to them why this is all so important to me.”

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Jason Coleman working an Oktoberfest celebration at Pipestem Spa and Event Center.

Stone’s Jason Coleman has lived in WV a good while. He was formerly a partner in a Morgantown craft beer bar. Now, he likes “representing a strong, independent, top-10 craft brewery in my home state.” Compared to working in retail, Coleman also enjoys the luxury of creating his own schedule that gets him out all across the state.

“Getting to know so many awesome WV small business owners” is among his favorite parts of the job.

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Josh Holland doing his Country Boy thing at a summer beer festival in Huntington.

For Country Boy’s Josh Holland, who formerly spent a few years working for a Huntington beer distributor, the thing he enjoys most is meeting the beer fans.

“I really enjoy getting to know the die-hard craft beer drinkers in different parts of West Virginia,” he says. “As I get to work more events around the state, I’ve noticed the same folks are always out supporting the industry. Over time, you get to know these people beyond the shared passion for craft beer, and that’s really the most rewarding part of the job.”

Any job has its challenges

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Gaining new distribution is part of the job, like adding this Halfway Home Pale Ale listing at a Charleston restaurant.

Of course no job is all fun and roses. As with any worthwhile endeavor, challenges pop up along the way.

For Holland, it is the rapid influx of breweries over the past few years that “has made it more difficult to stay relevant in the minds of drinkers, retailers, and our distributor reps.”

“We try to register as many new and interesting beers in West Virginia as possible, but the sluggish and costly WVABC label approval process prohibits us from getting 75% of the beers we make into the state.”

Stenger says that high among his challenges is dealing with rejection and overcoming objections.

“Anyone who has worked in sales in some capacity can understand this,” he explains, “but sometimes as hard as you try, and no matter how dialed-in your presentation or product is, you’re just going to get told no. There’s a lot of moving parts to actually sell beer into accounts. Luckily, we’ve got great partners in state with our distributors.”

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Brewery reps push the craft beer market forward by supporting bar promotions.

Anyone who has had to cover a geographic sales territory as large as West Virginia also knows it can be trying on your mind and body. You are going to have to spend a lot of time away from your family.

“Traveling and being away from home so much,” is what Coleman calls the most challenging part of his job. “Many weeks, I am away two to three nights per week.”

But those days on the road are paying off in increased distribution for all these brands. Retailers love having these guys stop in and help inform their customers on beer styles, tastes, and food pairings. Results are being seen from the efforts of these three guys.

Growing craft beer’s market share

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Working closely with his distributors pays off for Ron Stenger, 2nd from right. Shown here with his distributor team from Capitol Beverage Company.

Representing major labels that sell across many states puts these guys in a special position to hear and see opportunities for how West Virginia could improve its craft beer market.

The state’s beer registration and label approval process draws major attention. Holland finds that the process can move at a glacial pace, which he feels deters breweries from bringing in many of their most interesting beers. Coleman also has concerns with the process.

“A lengthy 4 to 6 week paper contract amendment process is required not only for any new beer, but any new package or price change,” he says.

Coleman notes that many other states maintain more streamlined, completely electronic submission systems with databases of breweries, labels, prices, and packaging. He feels West Virginia’s alcohol regulators are “under-funded and under-staffed.”

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Coleman working a fall beer festival in Charleston. Trying to help improve the business climate for beer.

Coleman sees a WV beer market that is dealing with a less than desirable business climate for both in-state and out-of-state breweries. But even in light of a tough market, he says West Virginia consumers are currently benefiting from in-state and out-of-state breweries “producing world-class beers and bringing them to the shelves and taps through self-distribution and great distributor networks.” He feels that this success has come “thanks to many of your favorite breweries and distributors jumping through an exceedingly high amount of legal hoops” that West Virginia enforces.

Holland adds a few more regulatory-related wishes to his list. He recommends the state consider eliminating the ABV cap in its entirety, allow beer sampling in off-premise accounts, allow brewery logo glassware, and allow temporary festival permits so out-of-state breweries and importers can “test the waters” in WV.

Stenger feels some of the regulatory issues may lie in the fact that many of the laws, which the WVABCA is charged with enforcing, were drafted years ago in a very different time, with different market conditions.

Stenger says a great place to start improving the WV beer market is a focus on quality: “Is my beer fresh; is my beer clean; am I really getting the most out of this beer experience?”

“If a bar isn’t willing to let their lines be cleaned,” he says, “or if they’re unwilling to store our beer correctly, we don’t want to send our beer in to their location.”

A note of thanks

No out-of-state brewery is required to have a representative living in West Virginia. In fact, almost none do. That’s why Brilliant Stream commends Stone, New Belgium, and Country Boy breweries for making this important investment in West Virginia beer consumers. Hopefully, West Virginia craft beer fans will take this commitment into consideration when purchasing beer. Hopefully, this investment pays off for these breweries in increased sales.

Brewery Representatives

Ron Stenger
Ron StengerNew Belgium Brewing
Since April, 2016
Residence: Cross Lanes

Favorite beer styles:
Sour beers. He loves the work that goes into making them, the story behind them, the history, and the attention to detail. He also loves Pilsner styles and respects a well-crafted lager that’s very crisp and clean. He says there’s nothing to hide behind with a beer that’s so delicately flavored. Your process has to be dialed-in to nail this one.

Biggest selling beers in WV:
Fat Tire is Number 1 in WV by a long shot, but Citradelic and Dayblazer are fighting it out for 2nd place, with Voodoo Ranger IPA right there in the fight as well. The Fat Tire portion of this is consistent with national trends. They are also seeing the whole Voodoo Family perform well nationwide.

Most under-appreciated beer:
1554 Black Lager. He says it offers lots of chocolate and coffee tones, without being too sweet. It’s pretty light overall, which is generally not something you see with beers featuring these dark malts. Sometimes, people are immediately scared by the dark color, but generally find it surprisingly light after they give it a shot.

His interest in craft beer came from:
When he moved back to PA to finish college playing baseball at a new school, he discovered beers from Troegs, Victory, and Erie Brewing Company. He started to look a bit deeper into some of these breweries and began to see how their businesses operated. He fell in love with the fact that these weren’t massive corporations, but instead just some nice people who liked beer enough to start their own breweries.

Josh Holland
Josh HollandCountry Boy Brewing
Since July, 2017
Residence: Huntington

Favorite beer styles:
Anything hoppy, sour, or wood-aged, like most typical beer geeks. Other styles he enjoys are Czech Pils, Baltic Porter, and English Barleywine.

Biggest selling beers in WV:
His two best sellers are Cougar Bait and Shotgun Wedding, which is consistent for their home market in Kentucky, as well.

Most under-appreciated beer:
Halfway Home Pale Ale. It’s made with two of his favorite hops (Mosaic & Galaxy), light to medium bodied so it’s super drinkable. The hops taste really bright, with notes of melon, strawberry, tropical fruit. He says people typically reach for Cliff Jumper since it’s an IPA and higher ABV, but Halfway Home is the better of the two, in his opinion.

His interest in craft beer came from:
Josh says he was drawn to the wide variety of beer styles from across the world and the challenge of tracking down certain hard to find beers.

Jason Coleman
Stone Brewing CompanyJason Coleman
Since July, 2017
Residence: Morgantown

Favorite beer styles:
He works for Stone so he can’t pass up a great piney, bitter, West Coast style IPA. Also enjoys a clean California Common or Belgian Pale Ale.

Biggest selling beers in WV:
Delicious IPA and Ripper Pale Ale. Coleman says that does not deviate very much from the national trends, however, Arrogant Bastard brings a strong game off the bench in WV, which isn’t so much the case in the rest of the country.

Most under-appreciated beer:
Arrogant Bastard Ale. For a beer first brewed in 1997, he says it is still extremely relevant even in today’s crowded beer world. The layers of rich caramel and biscuity malt paired with the unrelenting bitter hop finish makes Arrogant Bastard one of the most versatile beer for food pairings or just crushing after work. Stone does not hold this beer back by forcing into a style category, but likes to call it an amber ale on steroids.

His interest in craft beer came from: 
When he turned 21, his first “legal” beer was a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. That led to a short-lived homebrewing hobby, and trips to OH and PA to grab six packs of Dogfish 90 Minute and Arrogant Bastard 22s. This love and interest was fostered greatly when he took a manager position at the Apothecary Ale House in Morgantown.

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