All Indianapolis bars should have equal beer distribution rights 

Is a beer distribution monopoly in Indianapolis hurting small businesses?

"When I see places with six cases of Zombie Dust on their bar, it's pretty obvious that there is an issue here." Mona Demaggio looks exhausted as she says this. She worked until 4 this morning, a 20-hour shift, at her bar, The 5th Quarter Lounge. Now, it's noon and she's sitting at this table with me, drinking a Mountain Dew. As soon as this is done, she will be preparing for tonight's show. "But, I want you to realize, this isn't about the 5th Quarter to me, or about me, it's about equality in an industry, it's about small bars being unable to get the beers they want, the beers their clientele wants. If your bar holds 10 people or 2,000, you should be able to get the beer you want if it's available."

click to enlarge The beer selection at the 5th Quarter - JOEY SMITH
  • The beer selection at the 5th Quarter
  • Joey Smith

Mona has been running the 5th Quarter Lounge, a well-loved music venue and bar just outside of Fountain Square, for over three years. She also worked at the now defunct Vollrath. Her main goal is to bring music to the Circle City and to have a place for local bands to play, but as with any business owner, she wants to turn a profit and keep her bar-goers happy. While three dollar Miller High Life's are always nice, they aren't exactly a money maker for any bar owner. That is where highly-sought, locally-brewed beers come in and help bring in higher profits, larger return rates of bar patrons, and even more important, happier drinkers. It is no secret that Indiana is home to an incredible craft beer scene, but despite the incredible amount of top-notch beers being made around this state, the brewery that people look for is Three Floyds. The Munster-based brewery has a cult following, and world-wide acclaim for their beers like Dreadnaught, Gumballhead, and the ever-popular Zombie Dust.

click to enlarge FLICKR
  • Flickr

"We've been trying to get Gumballhead all the way back to the Vollrath, so that's six years," Mona says, shaking her head. In those six years how many cases have they had? Four. Four cases in six years, all delivered at the same time. All gone within two days. The issue, according to Mona is that there is a local beer distribution monopoly here in the state of Indiana. Nearly all local beers are distributed through Monarch Beverage Company, the state's largest beer and wine distributor. "What happens is, these big bars, with bigger orders and bigger budgets, what are called allocated bars, get anything they want and then when a smaller bar, a smaller account asks for the same things, we are told they don't have any stock at all."

If you're not in the restaurant industry, you may be thinking, 'Well, I see Zombie Dust and Gumballhead at liquor stores around the city. Why don't they just buy them from there?' If only they could. It is illegal for a restaurant to purchase from anywhere other than through a distribution company. So, while they may not be the only beer distribution company in the state; Mona's sentiment that Monarch has a monopoly on beer distribution has foundations in fact. According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, "Monopoly- complete control of the entire supply of goods or of a service in a certain area or market." There are other distributors in Indianapolis, like Zink and Cavalier, but there is no other way for a restaurant or bar to get the beers from Three Floyds, or a few other local breweries, for that matter. That fits the monopoly definition pretty much exactly.

click to enlarge The 5th Quarter is just one of many small bars dealing with this. - JOEY SMITH
  • The 5th Quarter is just one of many small bars dealing with this.
  • Joey Smith

"I'm not asking for much. I'm not asking for special treatment. I'm asking that it be equally distributed to any bar. When I see a restaurant that is less than a year old getting six cases, and I am told that there are no cases available, it's just wrong. Send me one case. If you have 100 bars that want it, and you have 100 cases, each bar should get a case." Mona understands that some beers are more rare than others and that there is less in production. What she doesn't understand, and why she is upset, is the fact that she should be able to get a case of these beers at least every few months instead of every few years. This is why she is finally speaking out after six years. She sees that it hurts her bar, and other smaller bars and restaurants that don't have investment backers to buy huge orders. It seems like a simple enough situation to fix. Hell, it shouldn't even be a situation; there is no reason that one paying customer should be held above another paying customer in any system (money is money, right?).

When Mona first talked to Monarch to see what she needed to do in order to get these specialty beers, they told her she had to work with a World Class salesman. "How do I get a World Class salesman?" she asked. The response, "Your bar has to carry a lot of craft beers." Mona laughs at the absurdity of the situation, "I'm trying to carry lots of craft beers, and yet I can't carry them because they won't distribute them." It's a catch 22 for a bar-owner that just wants to make her establishment a better place.

I reached out to Monarch and sent them eleven specific questions. I wanted to hear their side of the story and to give them the benefit of the doubt. Here is their full response: 

"We, like our many craft beer competitors, are in the business to responsibly sell as much beer as possible. We represent numerous small breweries from Indiana and around the country. Many of those breweries do not have the capacity to keep up with the current demand for their products. Three Floyds, the brewer of Zombie Dust, is one example. The gap between demand and availability creates situations in which we cannot satisfy all our customers' needs. We are sorry we disappointed one of our retail customers by only being able to sell it some, but not all, the products it desired."

This seems like a typical response for the company, rather than responding to questions, they have set statements that they are willing to make. When Mona asked her distributor what beers she could get, "He pulled up on his tablet and showed me that there were no Three Floyds beers available. None. Zero. So, I called the distribution warehouse and asked if they had any Zombie Dust, just to see, and the guy told me the system showed there were 46 cases." From this she decided to do something, anything just to bring the issue to light. She first posted a small rant on social media, followed by a petition entitled Monarch Beverage needs to Distribute all Beers to all Bars. Then, suddenly, she was allocated one case of Zombie Dust. She's smiling and shaking her head, "They're just trying to get me to shut up. I even thought about cancelling this interview, but I know that's exactly what they wanted. They're going to give me this one case and I won't ever see it again until I grow frustrated and bring all of this back up."

click to enlarge They have a few local offerings on tap.
  • They have a few local offerings on tap.

"Something has to change," says Mona, her frustration coming through more and more as we chat. "It's hurting small bars, the bars that are barely scraping by as is. I'm not trying to hurt Monarch's business, I didn't even want to call it out, but something has to happen." Mona has reached out to Three Floyds and they are personally looking into the situation. Since her petition went out multiple breweries including Triton, Upland, and Sun King have all reached out to her to offer their products and services. In Mona's words, "I'm so thankful for these breweries, I don't blame them at all, and the people at these places are incredible. The issue is they have to distribute through Monarch and Monarch picks and chooses who gets the product allocated to them." She takes a sip of her Mountain Dew and looks around her bar. "I hope this changes something, it has to; I just want it to be equal for every bar in the city. I don't think that is a crazy thing to ask for."

To sign Mona's petition click here

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About The Author

Cavan McGinsie

Cavan McGinsie

I travel. I eat. I drink. I meet. I record. I'm the Food & Drink Editor here at NUVO and I'm always happy to chat with people about anything over a coffee, beer, or meal. Let me know your thoughts on Indianapolis.

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