In the cavernous retail space occupied by Wilburs Total Beverage in Fort Collins, CO., manager and beer buyer Jeff Matson ponders just exactly how many craft brew brands he has in the store.
“You know, I can’t keep count, it changes every day.” After a period of mental calculation, along with a visual inspection of the endless shelves and coolers, Matson felt semi-confident of the number.
As a beer buyer, Matson has to have his finger on the pulse of what his clients desire. In Matson’s eyes there’s one product that’s going to blow up over the summer.
“Ciders. Within the last year or so ciders have really been making a comeback. I was buying cider years ago and people were laughing at me. After pounding beer after beer after beer, you have a cider and boom! You’re ready to go back to beer. It’s just a nice cleanser.”
Matson is such a large fan of ciders that he has been steadily cultivating the shelf space that gets devoted to the esteemed apple product. This is of course the tricky part of being a beer buyer, trying to anticipate a whimsical public. Past trends often leave things no clearer either. Last year it was black IPA. This year could be a variation of that, or something completely different.
“It’s funny, things will always come in waves. I remember all these doubles and imperials that were strictly for anniversaries. Then they became the norm, just because we can. Then it was oak ageing, I remember the first bourbon stout I had, now you can get bourbon everything. Of course, we now have the wild ales and the sours.”
It seems that in Fort Collins you can throw a stone in any direction and hit a brewery, a brewpub, or somebody just making homebrew in their garage. Matson felt there was an underlying reason for this explosion.
“It might be because of Odell and New Belgium being from Fort Collins. It’s something that people who grew up here in Fort Collins can claim as their own. Because of them making beer, then people are more likely to try other craft beers.”
However, in setting up the way that his store marketed craft beer Matson had been careful to not alienate the uninitiated either.
“The best selling craft brews I have in the store comes from my ‘mixed six’ area. I got three doors (refrigerator door space) dedicated to just singles. That was one of the first ideas I had for the store.”
In doing so Matson allowed for people to just try a little bit of what the fancied each time, instead of asking people to commit to a whole six pack of something they’d never tried.
“It’s just a great tool to introduce new beers.”
For people who do know what they want, which local brewery does Matson think dominates the market share in store?
“You know, of course, New Belgium. But I tell you what, Odell is creeping,” laughed Matson.
© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved