Bill Watkins, the co-owner of Zip Beverage Co., one of Missoula's two beer distributors, says Missoula has taught his company a couple of things. One is that there seems to be an unquenchable thirst for local beer.
"There's all these local guys who aren't just domestic, they aren't just region, but hell, they're down the street," Watkins says. "It's like fresh bread."
The other thing is that canning microbrews, as Big Sky Brewing Co. and The Kettlehouse do, is turning out to be a pretty good idea.
"The recreationally minded consumer [prefers] a can because it's more recyclable, more portable and it creates less waste," he says. "That's another growing segment."
Those segments are partly why Zip Beverage, which has been in business in Missoula for about 60 years, acquired Butte's Anheuser-Busch InBev franchise from Thompson Distributing Inc. two weeks ago. It means Zip will extend its distribution of Budweiser products to Butte and other markets around southwestern Montana. Watkins hopes it also means that Zip can now sell more Montana-made microbrews, including Big Sky's, in those markets.
"What's funny about the handcrafts," he says, "is you pay more for them...But I think people do the math as to the alcohol [content] and the flavor profile, which are much bigger, and they're...more satisfied."
Zip had been selling the equivalent of about 1.4 million cases of beer per year, Watkins says; adding Thompson's business will up Zip's sales to about two million cases a year, which Watkins says is about the average in the industry these days. "If you're not keeping up with the average, ultimately you probably will be consolidated out."
The deal closed Dec. 30. Watkins declined to disclose the purchase price.
Zip retained Thompson's 20 beer distribution employees in Butte and is taking over Thompson's beer warehouse there.
Summit Beverage, Missoula's other beer distributor, whose portfolio includes Miller, Coors, Pabst and microbrews such as Kettlehouse and Bayern, already does business in Butte.