If you’ve seen the events calendar we’ve compiled, recently, you know that from now through the weekend is utterly packed with craft beer happenings around Oregon and the Northwest. One particularly noteworthy event on Friday November 19th, perhaps the most craft beer-packed day of all, is scheduled at Bottles. This quaint bottle shop and taphouse in Portland’s Beaumont Neighborhood is hosting the city’s first official (as far as we know) Meet the Distributor night. Inspired by beer connoisseur and draft specialist Amy Welch, Meet the Distributor’s first event will feature the beers slung by Mountain Peoples Organic Distribution, a California-based company that currently works with about 20 craft breweries primarily from the Pacific Northwest.
Mountain People’s Oregon sales manager Tim Ensign (brother of well-known Portland bartender Chris “King C” Ensign) has been working with Welch and the staff at Bottles to piece together a very impressive lineup of beers from his company’s repertoire. We recently caught up with Ensign to find out more about this monumental event and the life of a beer and wine distributor.
Tell us a little about Mountain Peoples, the history, and your role with the company.
Tim Ensign: Mountain Peoples Wine & Beer was founded in 1994, by Michael Funk. We operated for several years alongside Michael’s other company, Mountain Peoples Warehouse (now known as UNFI), which is the largest distributor of natural foods and supplements in the nation. We operate in California and Oregon with our facilities in Salem, Oregon and Grass Valley, California. We have always had a focus on Organics as it has been our backbone since the beginning.
Personally, I have a strong retail background, working mostly at grocery stores for my first ten years of employment. My love for beer really flourished living in Chico, California for eight years. This is when I started homebrewing, running a beer department in a Natural Foods store and working on the bottling line at the now defunct Butte Creek Brewery. This is also where I met my amazing wife Jana (also a beer advocate and currently a Mountain Peoples sales rep who bottled at Butte Creek as well and grew up in the beer scene of Northern California). Jana and I moved to Portland in 2001. I started out as the lone Portland Sales Rep for Mountain Peoples in 2002, concurrently working at Belmont Station and the Lucky Labrador Brewpub. In 2006, I was promoted to Sales Manager and later to Oregon Manager. In this role, my responsibilities are many and varied- from working with producers and accounts, to sales, office and warehouse staff, managing inventory, logistics, etc. Over the past several years, my passion for craft beer has helped to fuel the expansion of Mountain Peoples Beer catalog.
How many employees do you have and what region do you cover?
TE: We have 20 employees in the entire state of Oregon and that includes everyone! Mountain Peoples Oregon distributes to most of the state. We service up and down the I-5 corridor, the entire Oregon Coast and Central Oregon.
What products/brands does Mountain Peoples work with?
TE: I am proud to say that we carry NO major corporate brands! Oregon Breweries: Fort George from Astoria, Three Creeks from Sisters, Silver Moon from Bend. Washington Breweries: Three Skulls from Seattle, Salmon Creek from Vancouver. California Breweries: Bear Republic from Healdsburg, Bison from Berkley, Mount Shasta from Weed, Hoppy from Sacramento, Uncommon from Santa Cruz, Blue Frog from Fairfield, Six Rivers from McKinleyville, Santa Cruz Mountain from Santa Cruz, El Toro from Morgan Hill, FiftyFifty from Truckee, Red Branch Ciders and Braggots from Sunnyvale. Nevada: Buckbean from Reno. Wisconsin: Lakefront from Milwaukee. Colorado: Redstone Meadery. We also carry a great selection of organic, sustainable and conventional wines from around the world. We have a large array of of meads and even organic sake.
We also sub-distribute for Point Blank Distribution in Salem and on the entire Oregon Coast. They truly have built an amazing book and we are proud to represent their brands around the state where they do not service.
What are some of the challenges distributors face?
TE: All distributors face the challenges of shifting supply and demand, logistics, trying to plan for and predict trends, build brands, etc. As a small, independent distributor we also face some unique challenges. Probably our biggest challenge is competition. Being one of, if not the smallest beer distributor in Oregon and dealing primarily with family-run, smaller breweries there is not the financial means for major advertising campaigns, extensive sales staff or hundreds of merchandisers statewide. Our breweries generally don’t have their own sales reps or brokers to help support their brands in the market (as most larger brands do). As a result, we must rely heavily on our own knowledgeable sales staff, brewery owners and the brewers themselves (who actually get on the road to help us move product). Another challenge in being the “little guy” is having some of our amazing brands aggressively solicited by other distributors. Luckily, we have been growing strong and maintain healthy, person relationships with the breweries we represent. We also truly believe there is room in the market for small distributors because without this the diversity of great beer we all cherish would be diminished.
What do you enjoy most about working as a distributor?
TE: Feeling great about supporting really good people and companies, and not selling my soul for the almighty dollar. I feel lucky that I get to work with so many cool families, brewers and owners and when their product sells I know where the money goes and who it supports. We understand that these breweries put their blood, sweat and tears into their brands and our goal is to grow with them. Honestly, Angelo, have you ever seen me out at a bar drinking some fine brews, unhappy? …Not me, I enjoy life and love my job!
That’s awesome! How has the craft beer revolution impacted MP’s role in the beer world?
TE: Without it we would not be who we are. The dynamic beer communities in Oregon, Washington and California are what make us exist. The vast number of breweries on the west coast has really opened the doors for us to seek out and make available some amazing products for all the beer fans around the state.
The Meet The Distributor event planned at Bottles sounds interesting to say the least. How did the event come together?
TE: Amy Welch came up with the idea. Amy has been a friend of ours for almost a decade. You might already know her from being active in the beer community- she works for Lucky Labrador Brewpub and is often seen out where good beers are served with her boyfriend, my brother (King C). She came up with the idea of highlighting those who work “behind the scenes” in the beer world and shared it with Brant (Kunze), co-owner of Bottles and now we are excited to be running with it… When it became a reality to make such an event happen I knew we needed to be the first! We are grateful that our friend Amy suggested the idea, our friend Brant was willing to host it and that the great breweries we represent are traveling to attend.
What can people expect at the event at Bottles?
TE: An amazing tap list hand-picked by me. A chance to sample over 30 different beers, meads and ciders all for free. An opportunity to meet brewers and staff from seven of our breweries from Oregon, Washington, and California. The chance to meet our awesome Portland sales staff. Finally, last but not least, we will be raffling off a ton of beer shwag! We are looking forward to an outstanding event.
Feel free to add anything else you have that I neglected to cover.
TE: The “Meet the Distributor” will be held at Bottles, located at 5105 NE Fremont St in Portland Oregon 97213. The event will be from 6-10pm Friday, November 19, 2010. I sure hope to see you all there!
Here’s a look at what Bottles will be have on tap at Mountain Peoples Meet the Distributor night Friday November 19, 2010 from 6-10PM:
Bear Republic, Healdsburg CA- Ryevalry-Barrel aged: The non-oaked version won Gold at the 2010 GABF in Category 15 American-Belgo-Style Ales. Another unique Rye beer from Bear Republic, Ryevalry is a American-Belgo-Style Double IPA brewed with 30%Rye, American 2-Row Malt, Pilsner Malt, American Hops fermented with a Belgian Abbey Yeast. With significant quantities of Chinook & Amarillo in the kettle and Amarillo dry hops, this bitter, hoppy, & spicy ale is sure to delight. —This was the actual batch that won the Gold this year at GABF except we got some aged in French Oak Barrels for 6-months! 8.2% ABV 70 IBU
Three Creeks, Sisters OR-Chocolate Porter: Our 5 pine chocolate porter is brewed with, 7 different specialty malts (one of which is chocolate malt 30#s). The hop bill is just; Galina (bittering), cluster (flavoring), and cascades (aroma). What makes this beer so special? The 20 LBS of Belgian coco nibs added to the boil. This beer, with its soft mouth-coating feel, gives the drinker that special warming feeling all over! 6.1% ABV
Salmon Creek, Vancouver WA-Oatus the Imperial Red: The latest creation from The Creek, A rich Red Ale with the warmth of oats and a well-balanced hop finish. The hops are Nugget and Amarillo in the first wort hopping and Amarillo for the finish. We use Rahr 2 Row as our base malt and Breise for the specialty malts. 8.5% ABV 54 IBU
Three Skulls, Seattle WA-Winter Poison: Three Skulls Winter Poison is a dangerously delicious brew with dark complex aromas. Dark Chocolate aroma leads into a deep roasted malt flavor. The malty richness of this Winter Warmer is balanced by the roasted Chocolate notes. 8% ABV 35 IBU
Silver Moon, Bend OR-Hop Fury IPA: Hop Fury IPA is a bold American style IPA, designed to Celebrate and emulate the IPAs of Northern California. Think of it as Hop Knob’s bigger, more aggressive brother. This beer has a massive foundation of NW Pale, Munich, and Crystal malts. We follow that grainy sweetness with a heavy-handed dose of Pacific Northwest hops. Chinook, Centennial, Cascade and Simcoe hops provide ample bitterness as well as pine, citrus and tropical fruit flavors and aromas. Enjoy this new hoppy masterpiece! This is the 700 CLUB renamed (Silver Moon’s 700th batch of beer) 7% ABV 71 IBU 7 SRM
UnCommon, Santa Cruz CA-Organic Bacon Brown Ale: The Bacon Brown is an American Nut Brown Ale brewed with buckwheat and bacon. Initial hop bitterness cleanses the palate for the savory bacon finish of this uncommon Nut Brown Ale. 6.8% ABV
Fort George, Astoria OR-Omegatex: The Omegatex is Fort Georges newest Imperial IPA. Made with Organic Pilsner malt, Caramel malts and plenty of Dark Munich malts, the Omegatex has a smooth mouth feel that balances the awesome hoppiness of this beer. The Citra hops provide a beautiful citrus aroma and grapefruit taste while the Summit and Cascade hops balance those notes with a wonderful earth tone. The Omegatex won two awards at the Northwest Brewcup for the Peoples Choice Award and the Thar She Blows Award. Have a taste and experience the hoppy superiority that is the OMEGATEX! 9.6 ABV 107 IBU
Six Rivers, McKinleyville CA-Raspberry Lambic Style Ale: Our Raspberry Lambic Is made with imported malts and hops and our house Belgian yeast strain. Then we add Belgian candy sugar and 480 lbs. of raspberries in just a 7 BBL batch (that’s over 34 LBS of Raspberries per keg)! Then age it all on oak chips. It produces brilliant raspberry color and aroma with a pink head! 7.4% ABV
Bottles is located at 5105 Northeast Fremont Street in Portland, Oregon. For more information, call (503) 287-7022.