What do you do at Rhinegeist?
I have three main responsibilities. The first is managing our relationships with national accounts — these are companies that have stores across multiple distribution territories like Kroger, Meijer, Walmart, UDF, etc. This includes assortment, programming, expansion, and making sure everything runs smoothly week after week.
Number two is new market development. As we grow and look for new cities and states to sell our beers and ciders, I travel to these places to do competitive analysis research and project how our brands will perform. To that end, I visit key accounts, collect account universe and channel breakdown info, find the right tastemakers and targets for where we want to earn distribution, and interview wholesalers to determine who will be the best representative of our brands in those markets. It’s a lot of the background work that needs to be done for us to be able to successfully launch our brands in a new place.
The third responsibility is focused on our sales analytics and forecasting. We now have a sales-focused business analyst, Stephanie [Rosado], who is phenomenal and takes on a lot of that day-to-day workload. But in terms of concepting how those reports are designed, assembled, and then applied and communicated to our sales managers, I get to help lead and shape that effort.
What did you have for breakfast?
A glass of orange juice. I ate a lot of BBQ yesterday, so it seemed like a little self-discipline was on the menu this morning.
What is your typical breakfast?
A glass of juice and either a piece of fruit or a granola bar. But if you’re adding brunch to the equation, I’d say corned beef hash, two sunny side up eggs over top, some rye toast and a Bloody Mary.
How did you evolve into your current role?
This is a good story.
After attending the brewery’s soft opening, I started to pester Bob [Bonder, Co-Founder] for a job and he finally relented. So my Rhinegeist employment began in January 2014 as a member of the canning line team. I worked in packaging and cellaring part-time for about a month and a half, and was also teaching our brewers how to source and read bourbon barrels as we started to build our burgeoning barrel-aged program.
Eventually, I went to Bryant [Goulding, Co-Founder] and said, “I think my skillset and background really belongs more in the sales world. I’m very happy to be here, but I think I can add more value to the business in a different role as we continue to grow.” Luckily, he agreed.
So you jumped into sales?
Yes, I started cold-calling golf clubs, country clubs, tennis clubs and swim clubs for about a month until Bob and Bryant said, “OK, we think that you can do this. We want to open up Dayton, so go give that a shot.”
So I was driving up to Dayton four days a week for two-three months and started direct selling. I met Trevor [Sutherland, Territory Manager] on my first day up there — we eventually hired him to take over the Dayton market! Then I started doing a variety of sales routes around Cincinnati and also helping with a lot of our systems and infrastructural improvements on the sales and inventory control side as we started graduating from fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants to a business with more structure and order.
We then decided that it was time to start selling beer in Kentucky…we can self-distribute in Ohio but can’t do that across state lines. And with our belief that no one can represent our products better than ourselves, we decided to open up an independent distributor based in Kentucky — and I left Rhinegeist to start Riverghost. I hired our sales team, built our sales/routing database, started meeting with key accounts, took initial meetings with other potential suppliers, etc.
And there’s quite a story behind Riverghost, correct?
We had an absolute blast building that business and had a hell of a team! It was a ton of work, but we grew from just Northern KY to covering most of the state in about three or four months. We built strong relationships, competed well against the larger distributors, and ultimately sold a lot of beer, fine wine, and craft spirits.
Unfortunately, Riverghost had a somewhat bitter end, prompted by the acquisition of a wholesaler in Owensboro, KY, by Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI). Other wholesalers in the state worked with a couple of legislators in the Kentucky Congress to propose a bill that prohibited overlapping ownership across two tiers of distribution — an attempt to protect their local businesses against Big Beer’s muscle and influence. We felt confident that they would write in some sort of provision that protected us, as we were also a small and local business, but the bill passed without any amendments. So, because Rhinegeist owned an out-of-state supplier’s license, in order to distribute beer in Kentucky, the same ownership was prohibited from holding a beer wholesaler’s permit in the state — even though the businesses ran independently of each other. This forced us to divest from our Rhinegeist distribution rights.
Riverghost stayed open as a wine and spirits wholesaler for several more months. During that time, I managed both Rhinegeist’s beer sales — now via a wholesaler — in Kentucky and day-to-day operations at Riverghost. Eventually, it became clear that without Rhinegeist’s (or other beer suppliers’) volume, Riverghost would struggle to be a sustainable business. So we decided to close it down and I was then back at the brewery full-time in my Kentucky-focused role, and later pivoted into what I’m doing now.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a broad cross-section of this company in a lot of capacities and that has been incredibly stimulating and interesting — I’m lucky that I’ve been able to wear many hats.
Do you have a spirit animal?
A Labrador — excitable, curious, loyal, and extremely food-motivated.
What’s your favorite Rhinegeist beer?
Fiction. I love pale ales and Nelson Sauvin hops are so interesting and wild and awesome. There’s a top note of tropical fruit and bright acidity that really shines...I think it’s the most unique beer that we brew.
What are some of the challenges that get thrown your way in your role?
The intricacies of every market that we’ve opened up are quite different. Everything from each state’s laws and statutes to its unique competitive landscape to how we are gauged by consumers — local vs. regional, big vs. small, etc. How do we position ourselves going into a market for the first time — to be opportunistic but still maintain authenticity and a genuine identity? That’s tough.
Assortment is also a unique challenge. It’s easy enough to think that getting full distribution for all of our items in as many places as possible is the right approach — but that obviously isn’t realistic, nor is it the best answer for us and our retail partners. Figuring out the right prioritization of our beers and ciders by market, making sure they’re in stores in the correct combinations where they won’t cannibalize their own velocities, and then protecting those placements year after year — it’s a balancing act.
Finally, the logistics of getting our beer further and further away and keeping our sales people involved when they’re in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New England, etc.! We take it for granted that we who live and work in Cincinnati are always around the brewery, that we can drink beers after work and bounce ideas off one another, but how do you translate that energy to someone who is on an island far away? This isn’t in my formal job description but I’m very conscious of the importance of maintaining our culture and want to make an impact in fostering its growth.
Talk about your music career.
I started playing piano when I was four years old and guitar when I was in eighth grade. Started a high school band called the “The Buttered Scones” — we put an album out called “Lightly Toasted.” In case you were wondering, I don’t think it’s available on iTunes…sorry.
Went off to college in Philadelphia and was in a couple of bands there, most notably “The Pale Nimbus.” We put out a record and played at least one show every single week on campus. Also did a few dates in New York, D.C., and around the East Coast. We had a blast and made some extra dough, and I certainly needed that as a broke college kid.
I went to school to study pre-medicine and eventually realized that I had zero desire to make the lifestyle sacrifices necessary for a medical career. So I finished school and decided to move to Nashville, and started playing shows anywhere and everywhere as a keyboardist, guitarist, and songwriter. The first two years I was mostly a live and touring musician, everything from playing cover gigs to going around the country for six to eight weeks at a time. I started to get a little fatigued from life on the road, so I began doing more session work. I also started focusing on songwriting, got a publishing deal, recorded a couple albums, and then one day — again, same thing as college — decided I needed to do something else.
I wanted more stability and a career that used both the left and right brain — and I knew in order to do that that I needed to leave Nashville. That said, music is always going to be a lifelong passion. My band “Hide Your Mamas” (pictured above) has come up and played every Rhinegeist anniversary party!
What is the most absurd (but PG-13) story you can tell us from your life as a touring musician?
Oh no *laughs*. PG-13…
Alright, first year in Nashville I’m playing in this band called “Williamson Black,” a country fried rock band. We get picked up to do a small run on the Jägermeister Country Tour. So we get to Lawrence, Kansas, walk into the venue and this brand rep, decked out head-to-toe in Jäger gear — a caricature of a human — giddy, bouncing up and down, reaches down into his backpack and pulls out a liter — A LITER — of Jägermeister, and shoves it in my chest. Reaches back, grabs more bottles, and hands one to each of us. He says, “Welcome to the Jägermeister Country Tour, boys. This is your daily allowance.”
I’m 21 years old at the time and thinking, “Oh shit, this is awesome.” We load in, do our sound check, and then it’s Jäger time. We get after it and I end up pretty toasted at the show. Afterward, things deteriorate and we eventually end up at the Kansas University men’s golf team’s house driving balls off their balcony...I crash on their floor and wake up the next morning with the worst hangover I’ve ever had in my life. Drive 200 miles to the next show and sure enough the same rep pops out at the venue and comes up to meet us — he pulls out a bottle from his backpack and hands it to me. I almost vomited.
To this day, now almost ten years later, I have not had another sip of Jägermeister.
On average how many times do you sing in the shower per week?
Every day. Next question.
What do you enjoy most about this place?
I know this is a cliché answer, but the teamwork, the camaraderie, the people.
Playing music, when you’re with a group of people on the road, you get really close and you build great relationships that are long-lasting and spiritual — you also get that here. To look at what’s been built over the last four years and how so many people, including a few that are no longer at Rhinegeist, are among my best and lifelong friends — it’s a special place.
It’s also had a lot of challenging moments. We’ve all had long days, nights, weeks, and years of building this; the fact that everybody comes together to solve problems while maintaining this entrepreneurial energy and spirit is something to celebrate.
You’re a big sports fan. What are your teams?
I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, so I’m a big University of Kentucky fan. That said, I do go beyond basketball…I know the stereotype of UK fans is that they only care about basketball, but my family has held UK football season tickets for nearly 20 years. My favorite day of the year, every year, is the Saturday in October where you’ll get an afternoon at Keeneland to watch the races and then a night game to watch the Cats play.
Best sporting event you’ve attended? You can name a few.
One of them was very recent, the FC Cincinnati win over the Chicago Fire at Nippert Stadium. The crowd was crazy enthusiastic and energetic, and the team played out of their minds. Mitch, the goalie, was standing on his head, just stoning people. That was wild.
A couple more…2007, Kentucky football upsets future National Champions LSU in 4 overtimes in Lexington. Got to rush the field — good stuff. Also Penn vs. Princeton basketball, my freshman year at college. If you know your basketball, you know the Princeton offense is very slow, methodical, deliberate and very difficult to make up a deficit against. Penn comes back from 15 points down with 8 minutes left and eventually wins in OT. We storm the court and win the Ivy at the Palestra, a college basketball cathedral.
Where does the beauty of the brewery lie for you?
Our employee happy hours, when you’ve got over 100 people on a Friday after a long week of work sitting in the taproom, kicking it, competing on the ping pong table, drinking beers, eating pizza. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Favorite TV show of all-time?
“The Wire.” It’s the realest TV show. The character development, the way they weave together all of the storylines and arcs to paint this harrowing picture of a city in crisis, yet still find enough humor and good in the world to keep you engaged. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, and executed really nicely on the screen.
Do you have a famous look-a-like?
I’ve heard a few. When I was living in Nashville, I grew my hair way out and I didn’t have a beard, so I looked like Shaun White, the action sports superstar. I’m good with that one. A couple of people have told me that I look like a svelte Paul Giamatti, which is not necessarily the most flattering comparison. No offense to Paul, he’s a great actor.
Is there a piece of Rhinegeist apparel you wear the most?
Oh man, my blue hoodie. Also shout out to my Fiction T-Shirt — a close second.
What do you do when you’re not 'Geisting?
I still try to play a lot of music — I write a fair amount and keep my chops up. I enjoy playing golf even though I’m mediocre at best. I enjoy reading and I enjoy brunch. I also love to travel — just got back from a week in Colombia, which was fantastic.
If friends used three words to describe you, what would they be?
Confident, fun, thoughtful.
Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe was an incredible read. He did a remarkable job in capturing the way Einstein would visualize and run his thought experiments — getting a glimpse into that process was really neat. Also great to learn more about his personality and the interpersonal relationships that shaped his maturation and moral compass.
Describe your last meal on Earth.
I’m going out with a steak. I’m talking a 2+ inch thick NY strip, Oscar-style. Potatoes, bottle of Bordeaux — actually no, let’s back this up a little bit. I want a Bistecca Fiorentina, the Italian porterhouse, rare with some béarnaise sauce — the Italians won’t like that, but that’s OK. I want garlic mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, and a bottle of some kickass Barolo.
Do you cook? What’s your best dish in the kitchen?
I love to cook. Particularly Italian food — my Bolognese will rock your socks off.
Employee-submitted question (Ann Marie, Marketing): Which Power Ranger would you be and why?
Green Ranger. I need to go back and refresh my Power Ranger knowledge but I remember him being my favorite...I think he had something mysterious or mystical about him? Green is also a top two color for me at baseline.
What’s your favorite bagel topping?
Smoked salmon, and lots of it.
What are you looking forward to about the future of Rhinegeist?
I still think it’s an open book. We’ve accomplished more than any of us could’ve imagined in four years, but I still think there’s a lot of space to grow — and not just in our distribution footprint or production volume. Our team’s focus on community initiatives, charitable work, and special events creates something that’s bigger than our beers and ciders alone. We obviously have a crazy passion for the liquid and commit so much time and energy to creativity and quality, but the community impact we can make — not just here in Cincinnati but everywhere we reach — I don’t believe it has a ceiling.