This is the first in a series of interviews with some of the industry workers who are working to bring beer to North County. This week, we talk to Nate Bryson of The Lost Abbey.
It is widely assumed beer representatives have one of the most fun jobs ever. They talk about beer all day, visit cool bars and sometimes get to sample the merchandise. Those duties also involve a lot of in-person interaction, time on the road and competition for sales locally. I reached out to several reps working to bring beer to North County to see how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted them.
Nate Bryson got his start in the beer industry spending a decade at Stone Brewing World Bistro in Escondido. You may have seen him behind the bar. He moved into management, took a new position with Coronado Brewing, and finally landed at his current home as a rep for The Lost Abbey in San Marcos. His experience as a beer buyer makes him uniquely suited to be on the other side selling it.
Cheers: How have your days changed from pre-COVID-19?
Nate: Thanks to COVID … my daily routine changes from week to week. Pre-COVID, I would wake up, check and respond to emails, plan my route for the day, and visit accounts [mostly bars and restaurants]. I liked to pick a couple accounts per day where I could sit at the bar and talk with the bartenders and regulars to try to find a place in their draft list for one of our brews. Then March 17 hit, and things changed. With most of our accounts closing and many off-premise accounts wary to order in fear that they may be shut down, we decided to start home delivery of our beers. … I spent most of my days in those first few weeks making home deliveries.
Now, much of my routine has returned to some sort of normal except that I spend half my time visiting off-premise accounts [grocery and liquor stores] and delivering beer that had been ordered previously. With distributors opting not to pick up new [or] special release beers we have been self-distributing many of our beers including the Tiny Bubbles brand that we launched in April. … Launching a new brand in the midst of all this was difficult to say the least, but thanks to a lot of hard work, and a lot of miles on the car, we have that brand in over 200 stores around the county.
Cheers: Have you been surprised by any changes in consumer reaction during this pandemic?
Nate: Honestly, yes. Obviously with bars and restaurants being forced to close we had to shift to almost exclusively packaged beers. We are seeing that sales of previously slower moving, high alcohol beers, are on the rise. It appears that consumers are drinking more of high ABV [alcohol by volume] beers that normally wouldn’t sell [as quickly as] they are now.
Cheers: Have you had any really unusual interactions during the past six months?
Nate: When I was making home deliveries a woman came to the door and had no idea that her husband had ordered beer —this actually happened quite a few times — and I hear from the other room, “My Lost Abbey is here!” He came sliding around the corner almost crashing into the side table in the hallway. Really made my day to see people that excited. I felt like Santa in March seeing people light up having their beer delivered.
Cheers: How have you had to adapt to the safety concerns surrounding COVID-19?
Nate: Staying on top of the newest mandates and rules has been a daily task, but generally I have just been diligent about wearing a mask and washing hands whenever possible. Oh, and lots of hand sanitizer! I tend to get caught up in conversation with buyers and fans of our beers, so we’ve taken safety seriously from the beginning.
Cheers: Anything else we should know?
Nate: I just want to thank all our loyal fans, and we seem to have a lot. We had people ordering beers online multiple times a week, especially when we put a rare or specialty beer up for sale on the list. Thanks to Tomme [Arthur, co-founder] and all of Lost Abbey for their support. I was fortunate to keep working throughout the stay-at-home orders. We all performed tasks that wouldn’t normally be a part of our jobs, but were necessary in order to keep the beer flowing …
You can buy beer from The Lost Abbey online, or stop by one of their three tasting room locations in San Marcos, San Elijo or Cardiff. Go to www.thelostabbey.com for hours and directions. Check back next week for an interview with Dan Jackson of Dos Desperados Brewing.