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Wondering why it is that certain smaller brewing companies will export only certain beers out of their primary location? I am a huge fan of Goose Island (Chicago area based) and am having a tough time finding their Sofie and Matilda brews on the East Coast/NYC area.

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I'd say it comes down to three things.

Distribution Rights

Breweries in most states are restricted by the three-tier system which divides the brewing industry into three categories:

  1. Producers
  2. Distributors
  3. Retailers.

A few states allow the producer to engage in self-distribution (usually to a limited degree) but most require that a brewery get distribution rights with a third party, which will hold full, exclusive, and unlimited rights to shipping that producer's beer. ProBrewer.com has some excellent reading on the subject.

The rules and regulations pertaining to the distribution and advertising of beer products are highly regulated and are enacted and enforced at the state level. Therefore, each state has its own set of laws in which the brewer is responsible for knowing and abiding by. It is incumbent on you, the brewer, to know the specific regulations of each state in which you sell.

It boils down to what the distributor wants to do and state-by-state requirements for what can be sold there. Ohio has a cap on alcohol by volume of 12%. Any beer over 4% ABV in Oklahoma must be sold only at liquor stores at room temperature. It varies so much that some brewers don't want to go into those markets.

Demand

There's also the simple issue of supply and demand. In 2013, Founders Brewing delayed entering the Florida market for a few months while they brought on more 600BBL fermenters because of some slight under-reporting of potential market numbers. There's nothing worse than not being able to supply your customers with beer. (Ahem, Cigar City's Great Jai-Alai Shortage of 2013).

Expense

Bottling/canning beer is expensive. There's also only a certain amount of time available to package. This is why there will usually be only a certain number and type of beer that gets packaged in these containers until a brewery grows to a certain size that allows better economies of scale. Once there, it's easier to start releasing seasonals, one-offs, and more nuanced beer styles compared to just cranking out a wheat ale or amber ale.

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There's lots of possible reason

  • Some beers don't taste the same after the pasteurization required for shipping commercially, so only local or limited run would work.
  • The area you're in may not be their target demographic/flavor profile.
  • They may just not have a distributor in your area or know if people want it.
  • They may not be a well known enough brand to justify shipping all of their products to an area and instead on just a few initially.
  • Intentionally driving up demand.

That being said, I show some of those beers available at areas well outside of their Chicago area, so it probably isn't the commercial shipping one.

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