Distribution of craft beer—or any beer, for that matter—in Chicago has always been a divisive topic. We’ve famously been called a “whore's market” for the entrenched pay-to-play ethos in the city. We’ve seen big names like Dogfish Head, Three Floyds and other change distributors, joining the Miller Cluster when it was time to go big, leaving behind the smaller outfit that built them up, even as other upstarts languish with lackluster distribution due to the state’s franchise laws. And on top of all that, we’re one of the few markets that has a craft specialty distributor—Windy City Distributing.
We spoke with their director of business development, Wes Philips, on a previous episode. But in the past few years, since being sold away from the founders of Two Brothers Brewing, and into the Reyes group, the organization has been growing by leaps and bounds. That growth also tracks with some of their bigger house brands, like Stone and Lagunitas, sweeping across the country and into international markets. All of this growth and success would put a strain on any organization, and it certainly did with Windy City at times, from maintaining a sizable team, to culture, and ultimately how they might behave in the market.
So today, I talk to Windy City president Bob Collins. Not to congratulate him, per se, though his company's certainly earned some well-deserved praise over the years. But rather, to take advantage of Bob’s experience long before his time at Windy City, at places like Union Beverage and Goose Island, to shed some light on how Chicago’s market got the way it is, and how he trains his team to work against the tide, as well as with it, at times.
It’s not every day you get the president of a distribution company to sit down with a microphone on. And there’s a big reason for that—distributors have a lot of people to answer to, both in the brewing industry and in legal circles. So as I’ve said before, someone like Bob can’t always answer every question I want them to, or at least not in the way I or you might want them to. But generally speaking, I think Bob did a great job here of shedding light anywhere he could. I certainly learned a ton. And for the rest, you’ll just have to read between the lines along with me.