As many of you already know, the brewing community is one that engages in extensive outreach to help those in need. One of the projects I am honored to be apart of is the Annual Beer Babes Calendar. This incredibly important fundraiser was the brainchild of Alice Kistner- proprietress of Mahaffey’s Pub in Canton. All of the calendar girls are fixtures in the Maryland craft brewing community from brewers to distributors, to bar owners and beertenders, and everything in between and I am blessed and humbled to stand with them and be included in their ranks. All calendar proceeds go to the Kennedy Krieger Institute: Center for Autism and Related Disorders.
Please enjoy these behind the scenes photos from our 2020 calendar shoot at Union Craft Brewery, who graciously hosted us once again. The stylists and make up artists, photographer and videographer all donated their time and costs for this incredible cause. Calendars go on sale April 20 at Mahaffey’s. Mark your calendars!!!
A behind the scenes look at the middle tier with Legend Erin Tyler.
Perhaps too often I profile only one part of the brewing
industry- the breweries. On Saturday I was afforded the opportunity to sit down
with Erin Tyler, General Manager of Legends Limited Distributing to examine the
‘middle tier’ of the industry while enjoying a beer at Mahaffey’s. Erin got her start in the industry on the retail
side working in restaurants. In 2005 she made the transition to the middle tier
at Legends Limited. A naturally
gregarious person that enjoys interacting with people, sales married perfectly
with her background in craft beer, wine and spirits.
Legends Limited was founded by Pat and Sherri Casey in 1994
when they became frustrated by the lack of reputable distributors for their
import alcoholic beverage brands. Yes, to clarify Legends started because of imports-
not because of craft as it hadn’t really taken off at the time. Craft would
soon follow. They opened in the Natty Boh tower at the same time Brimstone Brewing
was in residence. When Erin began at Legends they were extremely small- only nine
employees. With an unprecedented thirst for knowledge and ever inquisitive,
Erin absorbed everything she could from her accounts and the specialists behind
the bar/counter like Casey at Max’s Taphouse, Robert from State Line, and Randy
from Whole Foods. This was invaluable and helped catapult Erin up the ranks at
Legends. As she learned everything she could to maximize her potential, Pat and
Sherri Casey sold Legends to a larger family of distributors in 2009, Sheehan Family
Companies, a distribution company founded in 1898. This coincided with the
rapid proliferation in craft breweries across the country and shifted the focus
to specializing in craft and imports. Legends never distributed macro products
like Budweiser, remaining dedicated to the craft/import side, and this
continued under the new ownership.
Today Legends has eighty five employees, and distributes
over forty craft beer brands. They landed five Maryland breweries including
Union, RaR, Manor Hill, Oliver Brewing, and Burley Oak. As Erin noted- they are
not brand collectors but work specifically with suppliers that fit well with
their portfolio. The approach is not to sign breweries unless they can market and
place the products with a full devotion of resources. In fact Erin made her
opinion quite clear:
“New breweries should self-distribute to learn the ins and outs of
distribution, before signing with a distributor.”
Sage advice, and unexpected from the distribution side- but
that is what sets Legends apart from other distributors. Their territory covers
all of Maryland and Washington D.C. In
2018 they added 20,000 sf of warehouse space to bring the total to 70, 000 sf
of temperature controlled warehouse, complete with cold boxes for all
kegs. This is one of the most critical
components for breweries when it comes to choosing a distributor- temperature
control to maintain the freshness and quality of the beer. Along with that they
hired a new warehouse manager and operations team to change the layout and
maximize space and efficiency. Legends is truly a ‘partner’ with their
suppliers as they co-op everything: printing (they have an in-house printer),
tap handles, POS, glasses, etc. Erin’s sales team is extremely well trained and
highly respected for their craft beer/wine/spirits knowledge. This is one of the
reasons the relationships Legends maintains with their suppliers is so strong,
and why there is little turn over in her sales team. In addition, the company benefits
are numerous and generous, from the health insurance to the tuition
reimbursement, to the sixteen paid hours of leave for volunteer activities.
This is an family-oriented operation, and that is exactly how Erin describes
her team- a family, and one she is extremely reluctant to ever consider leaving.
Erin is content at Legends, enjoying the challenges brought on a daily basis from trucks breaking down to beer not coming in when a big event is on tap. She never asks her team to do anything she herself would not do, which has her doing a bit of everything- and she revels in this. There is always quite a lot happening, but she never lets her team lose focus- they need to collaborate and work together to make sure that at the end of the day the customers and suppliers are happy. This is the true end game of the middle tier, and Legends has mastered this. The quality of her team is a large part of the success, but so is consumer education (which her team engages in regularly), continuing education for her employees to learn about new products (and the push to work with the growing population of craft distilleries), and a willingness to adapt their models to the ever-changing climate- whether that be changes in consumer buying or changes in legislation. When queried about the slate of proposed alcoholic beverage bills on the table in the legislature her answer was simple- we have adapted before and will do so again whatever may come.
The recent host of craft breweries that have sold to AB-InBev and Constellation, has required a bit of flexibility on Legend’s part to navigate these uncharted waters. A sale of rare, premium spirits a few years ago required an IT intervention to add the extra digit (five instead of four) in the cost line to log the product in the system. No matter the challenges Legends adapts and one thing remains immovable: they strictly adhere to guidelines governing industry practices, and all reps are extremely well versed in each facet. Erin is very proud of this and this is why they have such a stellar reputation in the craft industry. In addition to this being policy- they are experts at understanding the products, retail spaces, availability of shelf space and refrigeration, and the market. They do their homework.
This is really the story of Erin and of Legends and how the
services they provide cannot be replicated. Whether it be a draft technician- a
trade skill that so many people don’t know or utilize anymore, the Micromatic and
other industry training classes employees participate in regularly, the BJCP manual
used to train all salespeople, or the fact that they consider their most
valuable assets at to be human capital…this is a one of a kind operation. Erin
Tyler is also one of a kind. She is the only certified cicerone at her company,
although the parent company has a master cicerone on staff, and provides
funding for employees to complete cicerone certification.
Erin is also one of the very few women in the country heading a distribution house. She states that she has encountered very little pushback, and her breadth of knowledge allays any concerns a supplier or retail establishment could drum up. Her reputation precedes her. She does acknowledge that things might have been different if she had signed with a macro distributor. The different establishments she would have interacted with might have tipped the balance in a less than favorable way for her and her career. Erin sees more diversity in the industry now than ever before, and predicts an expanded presence in all tiers. She actively works to bring women in contact with craft beer as a co-founder of the Baltimore Beer Babes, and has helped introduce consumers from all backgrounds to the wonders of craft beverages. This is the industry, the craft industry (whether beer, wine or spirits) and it is her favorite part of the job, working with people- because as a whole they are really good people. This is also where she reminds me that she met her best friend Alice Kistner, owner of Mahaffey’s because of this industry. Years ago when Erin was just a sales rep and Mahaffey’s was one of her clients (when Wayne still owned it) Alice walked in to apply for a job. That was at the beginning of a wonderful and lifelong friendship that has continued to solidify to this day, and even includes annual tropical vacations.
What does the future hold for Erin and Legends? Personally,
she will finish the MBA she has been pursuing at University of Baltimore, and
travel. Travelling affords time to completely detach (no cell service) and immerse
herself in something entirely new. Croatia was restorative, and stunningly
beautiful, while Estonia revealed a burgeoning craft brewing world filled with unexpected
and delicious IPA’s. Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania are next on the itinerary. As
for Legends? The focus will shift to a very proactive approach since the last
few years have been reactive with the growth of the market. Spending time on
strategic/long term planning is priority as Erin wants Legends to be the best
specialty beverage distributor in the state in five years. Erin also wants to
be the person behind the great breakthrough in craft beer distribution…stay
tuned. One thing is certain, she is not leaving Legends:
“I can’t imagine
doing anything else- they are my family!”
They are very lucky to have her. Unfailingly Erin operates
in the best interest of her suppliers the way she operates in the best
interests of her employees, reminding me- “without them where would we be?” I
would add to that…without Erin where would Legends be? There is no question
they are far better positioned because of her, as are all of their partners
from suppliers to retail shops.
After nearly three hours spent on the intricacies of the business,
Erin left me with a few golden nuggets to get excited about;
Union Craft Brewing’s release of a new year round IPA- Divine (the name suits it perfectly)
Firestone Walker’s release of Rosalee
Oskar Blues Guns n’ Rosés Ale
Better Wine Company Nitro Rosé in cans
They all sound intriguing! So put on a little David Bowie,
or just watch Labyrinth and take a
sip of that delightful craft beverage and be grateful Erin and Legends are here
in Maryland to deliver it to you- always fresh!