When Nick Anderson announced last week that he would be leaving Arrowine after three and a half years of curating their extensive beer program, suds aficionados on both sides of the river were filled with both dismay and a curiosity about what his next step would be. Both of those feelings may now be assuaged now that we know Nick will become the new northern Virginia sales representative for Alexandria’s Port City Brewing Company.
“This is a tough one to write, but my wife advised me to just "tear the band-aid off" so that's what I'll do,” Anderson wrote last Thursday in the weekly Arrowine newsletter. “This is my last week at Arrowine. Saturday will be my last day.” He has gained a reputation for both being a reliable beer seller and an insightful commentator on the craft beer world and local beer scene (which he does from his blog, which you should read).
We were able to catch up with Nick on his new gig via an email interview. The lightly edited transcript follows below.
DCBeer: Welcome to the dark side of selling as a beer rep instead of being sold to by a beer rep. You've been pitched for years by all manner of beer reps trying to get you to put their product on the shelves. What will you take from those experiences that will now help you sell PCBC?
Nick Anderson: Well, being “pitched” to all these years has taught me a lot about what not to do. The important part for me is the "trying to get you to put their product on the shelves" aspect; I'm not sure anyone really enjoys having something “sold” to them. One of the things I've always loved about Port City's lineup is that there's something for everyone in it. I think that gives Port City as a brewery, and me as a rep, a flexibility with clients that many breweries just don't have.
Was it just time to leave Arrowine? Time to see another part of the puzzle?
That's a good way of putting it. I'm in a place now where I've been in the beer/wine business for a decade, and have made a little name for myself in the area. This wasn't a case of "I'm unhappy; I'm leaving my job" as much as "Hey, I'm 35–where am I going in my career, and what should I do with the experience I have?" It's time for me to be in the beer business in a real way, and if you'd asked me what job could have pulled me away from Arrowine, this would have been my answer.
You'll now have to deal with on- and off-premise allocations, which is something you've been fairly vocal about. How will you reconcile that in the new position? Surely it's part of the game, but will it be tough for you to have to allocate limited releases to big box stores knowing the background you come from?
I don't think this will be as great an issue for me with Port City as it would be with other breweries. For Port City, a release like the bottles of Ways and Means may only be available for a couple of months, but while it is available, supply is pretty good. Also, Port City's most limited beers tend to be draft-only, which I think is smart. Even there, when a run of a Colossal or something like Maniacal or Long Black Veil comes out, there's enough that it ends up in enough bars/restaurants that you shouldn't have too hard a time finding it. I kinda love that.
If I can address the larger issue in general, I think you're going to start seeing wholesalers approaching limited releases like retailers have had to over the past few years. By the time I was leaving Arrowine, I'd found peace with the reality that even if breweries doubled or tripled production of some of their whales, the demand so far outstrips supply that all you can do is get what you can out there and accept that most folks are going to walk away disappointed.
As far as big boxes go: they're getting smarter about using their buying power to get what they feel is their fair share–as they should, frankly. These days, you're going to find as many smart, dedicated beer buyers in a big box or chain grocer as anywhere else. I'd expect the future of limited releases to involve more chasing as supply will be more thinly spread out, but I don't expect that these beers will be pushed into bigger stores so much that it takes independents out of the game. It's all just going to be making the best of a tough situation. In the end, the effort has to be made to support those who support you. That goes for all levels of the industry, in my mind.
From the retailer perspective, how do you think PCBC is perceived in market; what are its strengths, what can the brand improve upon, and what do you wish more people knew about your new employer?
I can only speak for my own experience, but I'll say that while I was bottle-limiting purchases from this brewery and that, with customers rushing in to try to snag stuff before it sold out, I was consistently replenishing stacks of Port City brews. I've called the Port City lineup "inclusive"; what I mean by that is that as the audience for “craft” (or however you want to put it) beer continues to expand, it's only going to become more important to offer beers that are not only of the highest quality and consistency, but can play to this larger audience as well. I can't understate how important a role that had in me taking this position.
What I wish more people knew about Port City? Well, when you talk about "beer people are good people?" These are the folks you're talking about, across the board. In fact, I'm still wondering how I got offered the gig in light of this. Beyond that, I'd love to see even more people coming out to have a pint at the brewery to see the environment that has grown there. It's a great place to hang out and have fantastic beers with your friends, whether they're beer geeks like us or not. I think that comes through in Port City's beers no matter where you have them; it's one of the things that made me a fan in the first place.
Is there any chance we'll see you resume blogging in some capacity in the future?
For sure. I don't want to go into too much detail yet but there will be something new coming up, and I'll continue to write my personal blog occasionally. I've never wanted to be the blogger who writes something just to say, "Hey, new post!" so I wouldn't expect the frequency to go up; also, I have a new job and expect it'll keep me pretty busy. When I need to spend a couple thousand words sorting something out in my head, I'll be there.
For his part, and unsurprisingly, Port City founder Bill Butcher had positive things to say about his new hire. “Nick has worked in the trade for several years, both as a wine rep and a retail buyer,” says Butcher (who also had a wine background before starting Port City in his hometown). “This experience is invaluable because he brings with him longstanding, trusting relationships in the market. Nick already knows all the important players in Northern Virginia, so the learning curve is shortened, and he can have an immediate impact in the market.”
In addition to these connections, the wealth of interactions with consumers on a daily basis is also an asset, says Butcher. “He talks to the people that spend their hard earned money on craft beer. He knows what they want and how to make his customers happy. He knows how to successfully manage new and existing products, limited releases, and how to navigate other subtleties of our trade….We are thrilled to have Nick on our team, and we look forward to learning from him and having him help to continue to grow and solidify our position in the Metro DC market.”
Most if not all fans of Anderson’s from his time at Arrowine (us included) are likely relieved that he will be staying in the area in some capacity. Where they may have been used to seeing him behind the tasting table on Lee Highway, they will now have to catch him slinging Optimal, Essential, Monumental, or another Port City offering at a tap takeover, beer dinner, or launch of a new release.