Back in 2007, the nation was sliding into recession and a seismic shift was occurring in the beer-distribution business.
Big-name brewers that once depended on a wide network of relatively small, local distributors were shifting gears and turning to so-called mega-distributors who could handle millions of cases of beer on a grand scale.
Jason Mussetter, barely out of his 20s and a second-generation employee of family-owned Mussetter Distributing in Auburn, studied the Northern California beer industry and decided that the local company needed to do some shifting of its own. He convinced the family that future success could be found in craft beers.
They’re very dedicated to doing their best to support all the brands. You can tell that they care about the local craft beer scene.
Bryan Crass, brewery manager of Out of Bounds Brewing Co. in Rocklin
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And the rest, as they say, is history.
“Back then, craft beers were starting to grow, but I had no idea that it would get as big as quickly as it has in the greater Sacramento region,” said Mussetter, now 39 and general manager of the distributorship.
Operating out of a 58,000-square-foot facility near Auburn Municipal Airport, the 26-employee Mussetter operation now serves 34 craft beer suppliers, plus another six in the rapidly growing ciders segment. Six fully refrigerated Mussetter delivery trucks are on the roll daily. They’re part of a fleet of nearly 20 company vehicles.
The distributorship serves a swath of Northern California craft purveyors stretching from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe.
The privately owned firm does not disclose revenue, but Mussetter noted: “We’re about back to where we were when we were involved with (large-volume beer brewers).”
Mussetter Distributing closed distribution deals with brewers including Sacramento’s Track 7 Brewing Co. and Auburn Alehouse.
Mussetter says making what was then a dramatic move to become a craft beer-specialist distributor less than 10 years ago was fitting for the family business. His parents took risks just to get the enterprise started.
In 1976, Rich Mussetter and his wife, Kim, sold virtually everything they owned to start Mussetter Distributing. Rich was working for Miller Brewing Co. and regularly meeting with distributors throughout the Sacramento region. Out of the blue, he received a call from an Auburn distributor who offered him the business.
That was the beginning of what Rich and Kim Mussetter remembered as an extended period of long work hours, all the while raising their family. “There were stretches of time where I barely had time to be with my family,” Rich Mussetter recalled.
Over time, the humble, two-person operation grew as the Mussetters made all the right contacts with some of the beer industry’s biggest players. Miller Brewing was an early supplier, but the Mussetter Distributing portfolio ultimately grew to include such well-known heavyweights as Corona, Heineken and Sam Adams.
Jason Mussetter, the oldest of three siblings, caught the distributorship bug and jumped into the family operation early on. As major beer suppliers were seeking out other distribution options after the turn of the millennium, Jason Mussetter was studying up on some of the hot spots of craft beer, including the craft brew mecca of Portland, Ore.
He saw enough potential in the craft brew industry’s West Coast growth to believe that it was a niche worth pursuing. That included face-to-face visits with the fledgling craft brewers throughout Northern California.
“It wasn’t a sure thing. There was some very forward thinking by Jason,” said Kim Mussetter, the firm’s vice president.
“And a leap of faith,” Jason Mussetter added.
As competition among distributors seeking to handle regional craft brewers’ creations has ramped up, Jason Mussetter said the Auburn distributorship strives to seek out quality brews: “We don’t just jump on a new (product) from someone who just decided to get into the business. We always want quality. We have to be very specific.”
Over the past several years, Mussetter Distributing has closed a series of distribution deals with local brewers. That includes Sacramento’s Track 7 Brewing Co. and Auburn Alehouse. Earlier this year, Southern California-based Pizza Port Brewing Co. signed on with Mussetter to put product on the shelves of area stores that include Raley’s, BevMo and Whole Foods.
Other supplier clients include Hoppy Brewing Co. in Sacramento, Grand Teton Brewing in Victor, Idaho and Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co., which has a brewpub in Tahoe City and a brewery in Truckee. Mussetter also will be the distributor for Revision Brewing Co., the brewery scheduled to open in September in West Sacramento.
A random sampling of Mussetter clients praised the Auburn distributorship’s commitment to the regional industry.
“I like that they’re small and craft-oriented. Their guys are very excited about craft beer,” said Bryan Crass, brewery manager of Out of Bounds Brewing Co. in Rocklin. “They’re very dedicated to doing their best to support all the brands. You can tell that they care about the local craft beer scene.”
The craft beer scene also allows for diversity, which can be found in Mussetter client T.W. Pitchers’ Brewing Co., a San Francisco-based maker of “craft shandies.”
A shandy was long know as a beer-lemonade mixture, but Pitchers’ Brewing has taken shandies outside the box, blending craft beer with “delicious all-natural fruit ingredients,” including grapefruit, blood orange and apple.
Contemporary shandies are just a skip and a jump removed from the rapidly growing beverage field that Mussetter has jumped into in recent years – ciders.
Mussetter distributes for a half dozen craft cider makers, but the current low-alcohol cider market is not what your grandpa knew.
In the United States, hard cider has ridden streaks of popularity as an apple-based beverage with alcohol content of around 6 to 7 percent. Contemporary craft ciders have relatively low alcohol content but contain ginger, root beer, orange, blackberries, pomegranates, cranberries pineapple, pears and more.
“There are so many different cider flavors to choose from now. I think that’s one of the reasons that they’re becoming more and more popular,” Jason Mussetter said. “They’ve taken what happened in craft beers and applied it to ciders. I think ciders are where craft beers were five years ago.”
Mussetter said that perhaps the greatest sign of the growth of regional craft beers and ciders is the increased frequency of phone calls he receives from beverage purveyors saying they have run out of craft product and need to restock supplies right away.
“That has to be my favorite phone call,” he said.
However, the work that goes on at the Mussetter Distributing facility involves more than loading and unloading tons of product at the truck dock. Beverages have to be organized and stored at specific temperatures and not all beverages distributed by the company are alcoholic.
The Mussetter site even has a work area for labeling tap handles. That room is stocked with craft beer labels of every stripe, which can be placed on sometimes ornately crafted handles and delivered to watering holes throughout the region.
Rich Mussetter is allegedly retired, but as president of the company, he shares office space with Jason. Kim Mussetter is vice president and “is in here eight days a week,” according to Rich Mussetter.
Jason Mussetter adds: “I’m not sure they’re ever going to really retire.” Which Jason understands, as he’s hoping to pass the business on someday to his children.
“We’re so fortunate to have this in our family,” he says.
Location: 58,000-square-foot facility at 12979 Earhart Ave., Auburn
Origins: Founded in 1976 by Rich and Kim Mussetter; their son, Jason, now serves as the company’s general manager
Niche: Distribution of craft beer/cider products of 40 suppliers, plus some non-alcoholic beverages, in a Northern California area stretching from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe (including Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado, Yolo, Solano and Nevada counties, and portions of Yuba and Sierra counties)
Honors: Named second runner-up in the 2013 Craft Beer Distributor of the Year awards, handed out by the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Brewers Association, recognizing distributors who excel in marketing, promoting and selling craft beers
More information: mussetterdistributing.com
Source: Bee research