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Craft Coalition and Free State Serve Up Maryland’s Freshest

“We miss him on the farm,” says Manor Hill Head Brewer Kurt Kroll about Jason Gotcher one cloudy morning. “Sometimes,” Kroll wryly adds.

Gotcher served as Manor Hill Brewing’s Director of Operations from 2014 to 2019, which included planning and building out the physical space of the farm brewery, but recently left this position to work full time for The Craft Coalition, a sales and marketing company he founded in 2017. The Craft Coalition is focused on bringing the freshest possible Maryland beer to consumers in that state and the District of Columbia. 

Jason Gotcher, founder of The Craft Coalition
Jason Gotcher, founder of The Craft Coalition

When Gotcher started at Manor Hill there were 40 independent breweries in Maryland, per the Brewers’ Association. As of 2018, that number more than doubled, to 94, and there are now over 100. Gotcher saw an opening; many of the smaller breweries lacked sales and marketing teams, and that’s where The Craft Coalition comes in. “Our mission is to provide breweries with many of the key benefits of a wholesaler relationship while still keeping the freedom to grow their business on their own terms. We currently have numerous sales reps in the market who each have their own territory and build relationships with retailers on behalf of our brewery clients,” says Gotcher.

He takes pains to stress that The Craft Coalition is not a distributor, as many brewery clients self-distribute. Rather, his company is there to work alongside the brewery, even if they have a sales team they can cover more ground and build more relationships by working with the Coalition. 

Having worked in retail as Beer Director for Howard County’s Victoria Restaurant Group, Gotcher’s well aware of how important those relationships are at both the brewery and retail levels. “During my time doing both [Manor Hill and Victoria], I had the opportunity to see what I liked and didn’t like about how the industry was structured. I personally felt that there was something really missing in the industry when it came to bringing local breweries to the market. My aim with launching The Craft Coalition is to create a system that is much more cost-effective and valuable to the growing brewer,” he notes.

“We outline the territory that a brewery would like us to cover and we discuss how they would like us to represent them. For many breweries, we are their entire sales team, but others use us to maintain the day to day operations in the market for them, which allows their sales rep(s) to cover more ground and be sales support for my team.

“Some of our clients want to be in every account, others prefer to focus on draft or package, while some care about having a small circle of key accounts that they sell to. We work for them, so it is honestly however they would like us to handle their growth. My team is from all three tiers of the industry and bring with them the extensive experience that spans from Sheehan Family Distributors to Firestone Walker, so we are well equipped to provide whatever resources are necessary.”

Silver Branch is one company working with The Craft Coalition, which has about twenty brewery clients. It’s “allowed us to focus more on brewing excellent beer and establishing a strong business foundation. We’re able to reach more customers and have a greater presence in the marketplace while maintaining a higher overall profit margin on our product. We see a lot of value in owning our distribution network and The Craft Coalition is the perfect partner for us to grow our brand while effectively managing our supply,” says Brett Robison, Silver Branch’s Co-Founder and General Manager.

Tha Craft Coalition and Free State Craft Beer

The Craft Coalition often works in concert with Free State Craft Beer, a logistics company that delivers beer for self-distributed Maryland breweries. Brewbound’s Chris Funari explained the process and Maryland laws behind this in an interview with Free State’s Dan Kennedy

“Maryland law permits smaller alcohol producers, such as class 7 microbrewery licenses holders that produce fewer than 22,500 barrels each year, to obtain a separate wholesaler’s license that allows for the distribution of up to 3,000 barrels annually.

That license, which costs $50, also grants the brewery the ability [to] use an additional location for warehousing and delivery.

Enter Free State, which holds transportation and storage permits that are obtained through the Maryland Comptroller’s office, the state’s alcohol regulator.”

From Brewbound.com

Between The Craft Coalition and Free State, retailers can work with just one contact, Gotcher and his team, rather than a myriad of self-distributed breweries. “We provide retailers with more beer options that come straight from the source, which means fresher product on the shelves. Ordering from a smaller, self-distribution brewery can be a challenge for many retailers because ordering six kegs from six different reps can get pretty hectic. With us, the retailer can work with our rep as a one-stop-shop for local self-distribution brands in a much more streamlined approach,” says Gotcher.

Those options are often delivered by Free State, quicker, fresher, and with more flexibility than traditional three-tier channels. “If they call me on a Wednesday with stuff that needs to be delivered on Thursday or Friday, I can make that happen,” Kennedy told Brewbound. “Dan and Free State are great,” says Sapwood Cellars’ Mike Tonsmiere. “Really makes it reasonable for us to send a few kegs around without having to make two trips (to drop off the full kegs and pick-up the empties).”

Thanks to Gotcher and Kennedy, Maryland independent brewers are freed up to spend more time, and money, on the beer itself. Gotcher notes that he thinks this model is exportable to other states but has no plans to do so. “There is still plenty of work to be done in MD and DC,” he says. We should be thankful he and Dan Kennedy are putting in that work. 

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