America’s independent beer distributors are small businesses that deliver beer to store shelves and restaurants in communities across the country. They help brewers of all sizes and from all over the world to grow by bringing their product to retailers, who can provide consumers with unprecedented choice and variety, especially as new craft beers flood the market every day. Kelly Distributors of Easton, MD, which has a portfolio of 16 local craft breweries from Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Pennsylvania, has been working with two local breweries since their starts, watching and enjoying the tremendous growth they have experienced over the last 10 years and working with them to promote their beer at local and regional community events.
Bobby Kelly, Sales Manager, Kelly Distributors, comments, “With the explosion of craft brew, beer drinkers have acquired educated palettes. Today, there is a good brewery in every town and there is town loyalty with hyper local support. Everyone wants to taste the local beer.”
Adrian “Ace” Moritz, Owner of Eastern Shore Brewing in St. Michaels, MD, the oldest brewery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, is celebrating his company’s 10th anniversary. In March 2008, Moritz met Clyde Kelly, owner of Kelly Distributors, at the Opening Day of the Crab Claw Restaurant before his brewery was even open. He recalls, “Originally, I had wanted to self-distribute my beer, but decided to talk to them and I am glad I did. The great thing about using Kelly is that they know everybody.” He adds, “Our relationship with them is huge. It was especially important in the early days when we only had draft beer. You had to wait for a spigot to open at a restaurant or bar for them to carry your beer.”
Eastern Shore Brewing was the 13th brewery Kelly Distributors represented in Maryland. Today, they represent 25 breweries. At the time Eastern Shore Brewing opened, there were 900 breweries nationally. Today, there are 7,000 breweries in the US. Moritz comments, “Clyde was a really down to earth person. It meant a lot to me to have another business owner partner with me in those early years. I put trust in Clyde as he offered his expertise to me as a start-up. We grew up together. He stood by us the entire time. I look at our relationship as a partnership. If I’m doing well, he’s doing well and vice versa.”
Approximately two thirds of Eastern Shore Brewery’s beer is sold by distributor. Approximately one third of its beer is sold at the brewery, where it offers between eight and nine beers on tap. Kelly Distributors helps promote local craft breweries at local and regional festivals and events, while also offering Tap Takeover events where brewery owners go to restaurants and pour beer in order to get to know the business owners and customers.
Moritz states, “We rely on the great relationships that Kelly has with its customers. Today, every can and keg is sold before it is made.”
In 2007, Eastern Shore Brewing started offering its beer in cans, which bear a vibrant Maryland flag, creating instant brand recognition for the beer.
Kelly adds, “As an Anheuser-Busch distributor, we work with other AB Distributors to distribute beer for Eastern Shore Brewing. Anheuser Busch has eight distributors in Maryland, Kelly helps distribute Eastern Shore Brewery’s beer to these other distributors. Today, restaurants rotate their craft beers through something they call ‘Rotation Nation’ – now committing to tapping more local beer full time.”
In 2008, Eastern Shore Brewery was brewing 150 barrels (31 gallons) of beer. In 2018, Eastern Shore Brewery is brewing 1200 barrels (cans and draft beer). This represents a 106 percent increase. Eastern Shore Brewing is available in liquor stores all over the Eastern Shore from Cambridge to Annapolis to Washington, DC.
RAR Brewing in Cambridge, MD, another local brewery in Kelly Distributor’s portfolio, has exploded into the craft beer market since it was started in 2013 by Cambridge owners Chris Brohawn and J.T. Merriweather. Randy Mills, RAR’s head brewer, is now one of the company’s owners as well.
Shawn Smith, Director of Sales for RAR, explains that the owners turned to Kelly Distributors relationships with area restaurants, bars, and liquor stores to help sell its beer. Kelly Distributors is the beer maker’s distributor for the five Upper Shore counties, with eight representatives handling RAR’s package and draft beer, distributing 120,000 case-equivalent (cans and kegs) annually. He adds, “Kelly is a well-oiled machine for distribution. Bird Dog Wheeler, the Sales Manager at the time, was instrumental in developing the relationship with the brewery early on.”
When RAR began, they offered only draft beer on eight taps, which included their own Bucktown and Nectar brews, as well as other craft beers. Today, the brewery only features its own brews on tap, offering 12 beers daily. In 2014, RAR began canning its Nectar and Groove City brews. The brewery now offers four to eight special brew releases a month, pre-selling tickets for the releases and selling out well ahead of the release, with lines forming at the door for people wanting to purchase the beer. In 2017, RAR put in a new system and went from being a 10-barrel brew house to a 20-barrel brew house – doubling its capacity and doubling its fermentation space. Nectar is 70 percent of its business, followed by other RAR favorites, Groove City and Hefeweizen. The RAR brand has been popularized by BJ Wheatley, an artist and employee who illustrates all of the brands.
Shane Pennington, Craft Brand Manager at Kelly Distributors states, “The world of craft beer is hot now. You have to stay innovative with brews and branding to keep your beer selling in the marketplace. Kelly is honored to have RAR in our portfolio. They are putting out quality products. We work closely together on distribution and sales opportunities on the Shore.” He adds, “RAR has the highest rate of sales in our territory. We are selling 15 times more of RAR now than when we started distributing their products.”
At RAR’s recent 2018 Dank Day, the brewery hosted 49 breweries at Sailwinds Park in Cambridge – a highly successful event for the brewery. By 2019, RAR will have an expanded kitchen to offer its lite fare, shareables, and handhelds. The expansion will also include an expansion of its barrel-aging program for RAR’s specialty beers.
According to Smith, RAR’s tasting room offers “bar food well done.” The brewery’s crab cake won first prize in the Taste of Cambridge.
Because Kelly Distributors believes in supporting local craft breweries and the communities where it serves, the distributor is helping to support Easton Beer Fest on October 6 from 12 to 4 p.m. at the Easton Volunteer Fire Department. Both RAR and Eastern Shore Brewery will be among the 45 brewers pouring 100 beers at the Festival which benefits the Easton Volunteer Fire Department. Now in its third year, the event expects to draw 900 to 1000 participants. The Festival will feature Kelly Distributors local craft beer portfolio, including craft beers from Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The featured beers include Evolution Craft Brewing, RAR Brewing, Eastern Shore Brewing, Backshore Brewing, National Premium, Wild Goose Brewing, Fordham/Dominion Brewing, Mispillion River Brewing, Blue Earl Brewing, Troegs Brewing Company, Victory Brewing Company, Lancaster Brewing Company, Wyndridge Farm Brewing, Stone Brewing, Devils Backbone, and Bold Rock Cidery, as well as Guinness.
Chris Hash, Firefighter and Trustee on Easton Volunteer Fire Department Board of Trustees, recalls that The Fire Department has worked with Kelly Distributors for 18 years on its fundraisers, including its annual Bull Roast and Casino Night and Golf Tournament. He states, “They were our first call when we came up with our Beer Fest fundraiser. They have one of the largest portfolios of local breweries and have always helped us with marketing and logistics with our events. Their ‘can do’ attitude throughout the planning of this event has really helped us. They are great to work with.”
He adds, “Kelly Distributors likes to help its local fire department because it’s their community too.”
For further information about Kelly Distributors, contact then at 410-822-2175 or visit kellydistributors.com.