For craft beer lovers, we tend to focus on what a brewery is doing or what a brewer has to say. Like any industry it takes many more people to make things run. From production to your pint glass the beer most of us will never know those who make it all happen. There is someone in this chain other than a brewer we do hear about. The guy who actually sells us the beer. We all have our favorite spots to pick up a bomber of the beer we already love or to look for something new to try. Odds are there is someone working there stocking and discussing craft beer with us. My good friend Brian is one of those guys. He has been on the retail end for years in Eugene and now he is on the front lines in Portland. If you shopped at the Market of Choice on Willamette you have probably met him. We had a few pints and discussed the differences between the two Oregon cities from his perspective.
How long have you been in the business of selling beer?
6 ½ years
What was the beer that got you into craft beer?
Black Butte Porter
How does the sales and culture differ in Portland vs Eugene?
At the Market of Choice the Willamette Store has a lot more buying power and a better location relative to the city center.
Willamette had a lot more availability. Local is a main focus for each store and culture is strong in both cities. Local loyalty rules both cities. Portland has been much more receptive to beers suggested to them and trying new things. In Eugene the buyers were more interested in finding a specific product. This openness has been a pleasant surprise. Also in Portland I have seen a dramatic increase of people asking for things like vegan friendly beers.
How do Eugene beers sell in Portland?
Decently. With say Ninkasi, we could go through for example 10(just to make the math easy) cases a week, but in Eugene could go through 40. Oakshire sells noticeably less in Portland. Hop Valley is also slow. The newer breweries in Eugene have yet to make their mark in the Portland market from what I have seen. A lot like Eugene Portland is fiercely loyal to the local.
What is your favorite Eugene made craft beer?
Ill Tempered Gnome from Oakshire
What is the most asked for beer at each location?
Willamette: Pliney the Elder
Portland: Pliney the Elder
Why is that?
Online Ratings and rarity.
What is the best thing about selling beer at the retail level?
Discussing beers pros and cons with with a lot of people that genuinely care about craft beer.
What about the beer culture out of the store?
So many more opportunities to get craft beer in Portland. Festivals, breweries, or new release event. With the amount of breweries in Portland there is always something to attend. As a state I have noticed that even at the dive bars there is normally a selection of craft beer. I have spent time in quite a few other states where you might find only one or two local beers on tap. The whole state is seems fully behind craft beer. I think Eugene is likely to become the next Bend as far as the backing for craft beer. The number of breweries is catching up to Bend, though I don’t think Eugene could ever catch Portland in total numbers.
What do think of the new breweries in Eugene like Falling Sky and Claim 52?
With Falling Sky I was underwhelmed with the beer, but I like the set up as far as their atmosphere. Still, they have have a lot of potential. Claim 52 was seemed a little disorganized. I only tried one of their beers. The Motueka Pale Ale and it was pretty good.
Most of us don’t see the brewer of the beer we love. We spend more time talking with the guy that hands us our six packs. It’s guys like this that have their finger on the pulse of our local beer scenes. This is why they can be so fun to talk to. He isn’t in Eugene anymore, but he loves talking beer and you can still chat with him via twitter. Tweet @bmenza and tell him we say hi.