« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Published November 01 2013

Crafting a niche: Unique beers local distributor’s specialty

FARGO - It’s not Miller time. They’re not heading for the mountains. And they have no Bud for you.

But for businesses interested in unique options that will scratch customers’ beer nerd itch, River Cities Distributing has just what they’re looking for.

“We just do craft beers,” said John Eidenshink, co-owner of the Fargo-based wholesaler and distributor. “That’s all we do.”

Craft beers are made by relatively small-volume, independently owned breweries. Eidenshink and fellow co-owner Tim Gemar are big fans of well-crafted beer, and that’s part of what drove them to start up the business.

“Part of it was … just kind of the frustration of not being able to get good beer back here,” Eidenshink said. “We’d go drink beer in different parts of the country or whatever, and you couldn’t get it here.”

The craft selection was limited in this area, Eidenshink said. “And there hadn’t been really a lot of new things brought in.”

Of course, they also went at it “with the idea that we could hopefully make a buck at it someday,” Eidenshink said.

The company was founded in 2011 and delivers craft beer to restaurants, stores, bars and hotels.

“Basically anybody who’s got a liquor license is fair game as far as (being) a customer,” Eidenshink said.

There’s a wide range of prices for the products they distribute. Lance Schiltz works in sales and promotions for River Cities. He pointed out one beer that would sell in a store for around $30, but that’s extreme. He says they sell a lot of six packs that go for $9 or $10.

They distribute in Fargo-Moorhead, but also reach beyond, to areas such as Detroit Lakes, Minn., Grand Forks and Bismarck.

As you walk through the River Cities warehouse and office facility, instead of the big boys of beer like Coors and Miller, you’ll find an assortment of lesser-known names and labels. Some are fairly standard, like Old Stock Ale. Others are amusing or even perplexing – names like Dark Side Vanilla Porter, Cropduster, Ghost Face Killah, Monty Python’s Holy Grail, Acme, and Delirium Tremens to name only a few.

River Cities brings in beer from outside the region and outside the country. They have four importers that carry “some of the best beer” from around the world, Schiltz said.

But they also distribute brews from the region, including beer from Wisconsin, Nebraska, South Dakota and Idaho. In fact, they distribute Junkyard beer, which is made in Moorhead.

The relationship with River Cities has worked out “very well” for Junkyard, said Aaron Juhnke, president and part owner of the brewery.

“It really didn’t make a lot of sense for us to pay the license to become a distributor and then carry the extra insurance and then put all the time and expense into distributing our own beer when we could just team up with an awesome distributor like River Cities and get that done for us,” he said.

Juhnke called it a “perfect fit” for them.

“We’re a tiny local brewery, they’re a comparably tiny local distributor so that worked out perfectly for us,” he said.

River Cities Distributing is riding a wave of craft beer popularity in the nation. The craft industry grew to the tune of 15 percent by volume and 17 percent in terms of sales, said Bart Watson, staff economist at the Colorado-based Brewers Association. The growth in the first half of 2013 was at 13 percent by volume and 15 percent in terms of dollar sales.

“And this continues a trend where double-digit numbers have been pretty consistent over recent years,” Watson said. “That’s pretty remarkable growth in a beer industry that’s been pretty flat over the last couple of years.”

For the brewing industry at large, “we’re at basically the same level we were at about 2000,” Watson said.

Eidenshink enjoys playing the part of the little guy making a go of it in a world of big boys.

“I think there’s … kind of that David and Goliath kind of feel to it,” Eidenshink said.

Still, River Cities is growing. In the early days it was just owners Gemar and Eidenshink along with Schiltz. They now have five employees in addition to the owners. And they’ve landed new accounts and expanded old ones, Eidenshink said. They’re looking to keep that growth going.

“I’d like to see it get as big as Bud,” Gemar said, “and then show me the money.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734