Astute beer fans in Montana may have noticed a decreasing number of Ninkasi Brewing Co. tap handles and six-packs/bombers on the shelves of their favorite stores over the past several weeks. Or maybe you didn’t. Ninkasi, the rapidly expanding Eugene, OR, brewery (which caused a bit of a flap earlier this year with Montana beer fans), says limited demand means the brewery is ending distribution to Montana.
I contacted Ali AAsum, Communications Director for Ninkasi Brewing Co., to find out what led to the brewery’s decision. Here is her response:
Since the beginning of this year we’ve done a total brand evaluation of all our markets. Through this exercise, it became clear that the demand in Montana did not line up with our commitment to consistently deliver fresh, high-quality beer. With that in mind, we decided at the end of October to discontinue the sale of our beer in the state. It’s not a matter of capacity for us, but a matter of limited demand in the market which inhibited us to move beer as quickly as we’d like to ensure consumers were getting the highest quality and freshest product. In the meantime, we are maintaining the relationship with our distributor and will sell through the current Ninkasi inventory.
Ninkasi’s decision is particularly interesting given the amount the brewery invested in bringing its products to Montana in March of 2012. Literally overnight (to the consumer), Ninkasi went from having no presence in Montana to having multiple tap handles in a somewhat astounding number of bars and significant shelf space in grocery stores, bottle shops, and convenience stores throughout this very large state. It was perhaps the single most impressive, coordinated roll-out of a brewery’s brands I’ve witnessed in Montana.
While in San Diego in August, Mr. Montana Beer Finder (Ryan Newhouse) and I had the opportunity to talk beer with David Walker, co-founder of Firestone Walker Brewing Co. As we often do, we extolled the virtues of Montana’s beer loving culture and asked Walker what it would take to get distribution of Firestone Walker’s outstanding beers in our state (Parabola, Opal, Double Jack, or Velvet Merlin anyone?).
With refreshing candor, Walker explained the volume they need to be able to move in any particular market and the related logistics in order for it to make sense to the brewery (assuming available capacity). Moreover it’s not just a straight numbers game. As also noted by AAsum, the brands needs to turn over quickly to ensure a fresh, quality product is consistently delivered to consumers. I won’t reveal Walker’s quantities except to note it was clear Montana would have difficulty demonstrating Firestone Walker’s equations make sense. (Not giving up on that, however.)
Regardless, no matter what volumes and turn-over rates a brewery deems necessary for distribution to make sense, it must be coupled with a robust demand. For Ninkasi, that demand does not appear to exist in Montana.