Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Beer Buddha Interviews: Matt McKiernan from Southern Eagle

So I've introduced you to Matt McKiernan before in a past post. He's the dude that left Lazy Magnolia for New Orleans local Bud distributor Southern Eagle. Well I recently had an opportunity to pick his brain for another episode of The Beer Buddha Interviews. Enjoy!

PS Apparently Matt didn't own a TV when growing up since he doesn't know Voltron, Transformers or Thundercats. Seriously Matt?

1. You went from brewery to distributor. For many in the craft beer industry that’s like going from the Rebellion to the Dark Side. Why the move?

It’s actually way more common than people think; the truth is that there is a lot of interplay between the two entities. For me personally, this move was a great opportunity to work for a great company and learn about another side of the industry that I love. Without breweries, there would be no distributors and vice versa.

My experience at Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company was awesome and I would not have traded it for anything in the world. At the same time, it was that very experience that opened the door to this opportunity. I like to think that’s what human beings do…we enter into one experience, learn from it, open doors, etc. The best choice for me was to move on and try something different; to take what I learned from one side of the industry (brewery) and incorporate that experience into another side (distributor).

I was a Religion teacher on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for five years before I came on board with Lazy Magnolia. Howe about that from Rebellion to Dark Side!?

2. What’s your favorite macro beer?

That’s a tough question for a guy with Irish genes who works for a distributor. Growing up on the East Coast, I have always been a Yuengling fan. I look forward to the day when we can get it here in Louisiana.

If I am fishing, I always go for the macro lights of the world. A 30 pack of Natty Light cans is an essential on any boat I ride on. I am not a mathematician, but I did develop a strong and undeniable correlation between the number of trout caught this summer with the number of Natty Lights consumed. It’s pretty amazing actually.

3. Louisiana tends to get skipped over by a lot of craft breweries when it comes to distribution; they’ll be available in Florida and Texas but not Louisiana. Why do you think this happens and what do you think we can do to fix it?

I think that there are a few issues involved here and a few ways to resolve them. All of them take time, and I think we are already seeing some serious progress taking place. The important thing is that we be patient, as it does no good to have every brewery get here when the market is not ready for them.

It takes a lot of money for a brewery to get their products into a new state. You have the obvious factors like licenses, taxes, etc. Then you have to factor the shipping and logistical costs associated with getting your products from A to B. Then a brewery has to consider how their brands will be supported in any given market – will they have a brewery rep working that area? The point is that it’s an expensive venture and the smaller the brewery, the greater the expense.

From the brewery side of this equation, I think their main concern is the craft beer culture. Will the market support their brand? Will it support it enough to make this a good business decision? At the end of the day the small, independent craft breweries have to make money. They want to achieve that by making great beer, but if they cannot pay the bills this is a moot point. If it costs X amount to get into a state, how long will it take to make the return on that investment. In my experience, the brewery HAS to be committed to the area. Having a solid distribution partner is essential, but I tend to think that the breweries that achieve the best results are the ones that support the market with representation, etc.

We are experiencing a very nice, local trend with craft beers in Louisiana and that is driven largely by the new breweries in the state. Abita paved the road many years ago, and now we have a newer slate of locals like Heiner Brau, NOLA and Parish. We also have Tin Roof (Baton Rouge) coming around the bend. All of these breweries are turning people on to the craft segment. This is what drives the craft beer culture, increases the footprint of the craft beer segment and, in turn, becomes a more attractive state for others to enter.

We have to remember that compared to other regions throughout the US (Pacific Northwest for example) craft beer is relatively in its infancy here in Louisiana. The Deep South as a whole has few breweries comparatively to other regions. Other parts of the country have enjoyed decades of having a strong, vibrant and local/regional brewing tradition. The good news is that we are on our way.

The one thing all of us can do is continue to support the small craft breweries and the retailers that sell their products. It is amazing what happens when a consumer steps into a bar or restaurant and requests a craft beer by name. This one act, repeated time and time again has a significant impact on the marketplace.

4. Voltron or Transformers? Why?

Sad to say, but I wouldn’t be able to distinguish between either. Voltron would make a great name for a beer though. If there was a beer named Voltron, I would drink it.

5. What do you see for the future of craft beer in Louisiana?

I touched on some of this in a prior question, but I firmly believe that we are in for a very good run in Louisiana. We have barely scratched at the surface for what we will get to experience in the near future. Again, the local and regional craft breweries will drive the beer culture, but in the meantime, more and more people are turning on to different beers.

At Lazy Magnolia, I never expected people to ONLY buy our beer (or other craft beer for that matter). I did aim for the goal of changing their buying habits just enough to supplement their standard, every day purchase with an occasional craft brand. I just do not think you can expect everyone to turn on to craft overnight. The craft segment does a great job of sampling and getting involved in local events, which are both a highly effective way of communicating the story behind the beer…that is, the people who make it, the facility where it’s made, the beer itself, etc. We have a lot of very supportive retailers who make this part of their business model. It’s a team effort and it’s a good thing for all of us; from brewery to distributor to retailer to consumer. At the end of the day, I think we’ll continue to see more craft brands become available.

6. How do you feel about online beer sites liker Ratebeer.com and Beeradvocate.com? How do sites like this affect you as a distributor?

Good question. I think they are a great resource and serve as a nice educational tool. It is amazing how much information is there and for that, I love them. I actually just used some nice references on BeerAdvocate to get some ideas on good beer bars in Denver. The only problem I ever encounter is when people decide a beer is good or bad based solely on the rankings from the websites. There are a lot of beers that are rated very poorly but sell extremely well. Then there are the beers that are rated very highly but sit on the shelf and collect cobwebs. I just think that a consumer should make up his or her mind based on what they personally think about a particular beer. It is either going to be good (as in they will buy it again) or bad (as in they won’t). I like that the websites serve as an open forum for people to share their experience, but I hope that people take them for what they are…a subjective point of view.

In my opinion, these websites do not affect the distribution chain. The overwhelming majority of beer consumers do not refer to these sites to make their choices. I might review a particular brand to hear some feedback, but that is not going to be a major factor in whether or not I would vote to bring a particular brand in house.

7. If you could be any of the Thundercats which one would you be and why?

I just turned 36, so I think I missed the revolution, but Thundercat would also be a decent name for a beer, as in “I’ll have a pint of Thundercat, please.”


Hope you guys enjoyed the interview! More to come! Keep checking back or sign up to receive The Beer Buddha straight to your email!


The Beer Buddha


Anonymous said...

I have a problem with this comment...

"Without breweries, there would be no distributors and vice versa."

I believe that if there were no distributors, there would be more breweries. If breweries could self distribute, there would be less regulation and cheaper products for the customer. In the little picture.

Anonymous said...

check it out. New beer company. I bought stock in it and got a case on the way.

The Beer Buddha said...


Those beers have been available for awhile but not here in New Orleans. Thanks for reading. Good luck with your stock.