How to Pick a Craft Beer Distributor: Two Roads Brewing Co. Style

, How to Pick a Craft Beer Distributor: Two Roads Brewing Co. StyleConnecticut-based Two Roads is delightful for several reasons. First of all, its name is based on a Robert Frost poem – how badass is that? Second of all, they’re down with the wordplay, a-la beers like Conntucky Lightnin’, an event called Nor’Yeaster and a summer-long contest called Conn Artist (I suspect they would get along swimmingly with the punsters over at Jack’s Abby). Third of all, their factory features New England’s largest tap handle. Don’t try to pour from that bad boy. And most importantly, after just a year and a half of operation, they have picked two new distributors and expanded to New York and Massachusetts.

I recently had the honor of making contact with Clement “Clem” Pellani, VP of Sales & Marketing for Two Roads. He was kind enough to share some insights on the brewery’s incredible growth and how exactly a craft brewery can go about picking the right distributor.

So, it’s clear that you really love your home state. How do you plan to embrace Massachusetts and other expansion areas?

It’s so true. We really do love Connecticut! Three of the four founding partners – Brad Hittle, Peter Doering, and Phil Markowski – as well as most of our other 50 employees were born and raised in Connecticut. 

We believe strongly in having Two Roads employees living and working in every state we enter, so we just hired our first full-time Massachusetts Sales Manager, Meghan Misset, and we also have one of our original Connecticut sales managers, Austin Kelly, who will spend a portion of his time working in the western part of the state. Meghan and Austin are both passionate beer geeks who will bring our beer and Road Less Traveled philosophy to life in Massachusetts through creative local events. 

What was the consideration process for picking Mass Bev Alliance as your distributor? 

There are a lot of factors that go into picking a distributor:

  1. Do they have a similar sales philosophy? 
  2. Do they understand craft beer? 
  3. Are they committed to growing the craft beer market in their territory? 
  4. Do they have the right team of people to represent your brand? 
  5. Do they have the infrastructure and resources to grow your business? 

There are a lot of solid distributors in Massachusetts, but for us, the Mass Beverage Alliance stood out in all of these areas. They have a unique structure in that they are five independent distributors with a long and successful history selling beer. They each have their own internal craft beer teams, but on top of that, they’ve created this wonderful alliance; Brian Murphy from MBA has put together a very passionate and talented team.

, How to Pick a Craft Beer Distributor: Two Roads Brewing Co. StyleYou’ve also recently expanded to NY. How has the process been similar, and how has it been different? 

In terms of similarities, both Massachusetts and Metro NY are border states with Connecticut, so a lot of people live in one state and work, travel, or vacation in the other. What’s fun and interesting is there tends to be an allegiance in western Connecticut to New York and their sports teams and an allegiance in eastern Connecticut to Massachusetts and their sports teams. So there is a lot of cultural interaction between Connecticut and these states. 

One key difference is that in New York, we are just selling in the Metro NY area [through Manhattan Beer], so it is a much more concentrated market. In Massachusetts, we are selling in the entire state, so it is more spread out. From a sales perspective, that creates the need for a slightly different sales approach and a lot more mileage for our sales managers!

You’re still a fairly new brewery. How have you managed to scale growth so quickly (especially in terms of supply)?

We learned from prior industry experience that there was need for a world-class contract brewing facility flexible enough to brew the varied styles of craft beer in the market and to package these beers in a full range of packages – bottles, kegs, cork and cage 750s, and cans. So we built Two Roads Brewery to be able to make beer for ourselves and for other established brewers that we admired and wanted to work with. These brewers were either looking for a new contract facility dedicated to craft beer, needed additional capacity, needed a particular package (e.g. cans), or wanted to brew some of their beer closer to the final market.  

Our customer base includes distinguished brewers like Evil Twin, Stillwater, Notch, and Lawson’s Finest Liquids among many other great companies. It’s become an incredibly fun environment to work [in] because we have all of these talented, world-class brewers congregating there. Someone described our brewery to me as “the Motown of brewing,” which I thought was great.

Because we started with this established customer base and their existing sales volume, we didn’t have to start with a 30-barrel or 50-barrel system and then upgrade in a few years in order to expand. We were able to start with a beautiful, 100-barrel Rolec brew house and enough fermentation capacity to produce about 70,000 barrels of fermented beer. We’ve since added more fermenters and are in the process of adding even more to bring our capacity to 175,000 barrels per year by spring of 2015. 

We’ve been fortunate to have friends and family investors behind us who are fully on board with our long-term plans for the brewery, and we’ve been able to fund our expansion entirely through our current investors and with loans. This extra capacity will help us grow our own brand into the future as well as service the strong growth of our customer base.

, How to Pick a Craft Beer Distributor: Two Roads Brewing Co. StyleDo you have any advice for other breweries interested in increasing their distribution?

My advice to new breweries looking to expand their reach is to:

  1. Make sure you have the resources ready when you expand so you can do it right the first time;
  2. Build up some latent demand for your products prior to entering new markets;
  3. Invest in your own local sales team as you expand to new markets;
  4. Do your due diligence in selecting the right distributor that matches your philosophy/needs; and
  5. Make sure you can produce enough beer to satisfy the new

This last point is important because I think retailers are starting to get frustrated by erratic product supply. Most of these points make me seem like Captain Obvious, but it’s easy to get caught up in the trap of moving too far, too fast in order to get quick extra sales.


So, there you have it – sage advice from a seasoned craft professional on how to begin your campaign for global domination, craft beer style.

If you live in Massachusetts and would like to get out of it for a bit, Two Roads has a tourable brewery, tasting room, and beer garden. Their staff will welcome you with open arms (and hopefully support for our sports teams).

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