Cocktails & Spirits

Q&A With Craft Beer Lover Kenny St. Cyr From Fresh Beer

Kenny St. Cyr may have one of the most mantastic jobs in all of South Florida.

It doesn't have anything to do with owning your own sports team, and it doesn't grant him celebrity status -- yet. And, no, he's not a photographer for bikini-clad models. 

St. Cyr is just an ordinary guy who just happens to be one of the men responsible for getting a lot of big-name microbrews to Palm Beach County bars, restaurants, and retailers -- and ultimately, you, the craft beer drinker.

For nearly three years, St. Cyr has worked with Fresh Beer, which since 1999 has been a leader in providing South Florida with American craft and specialty imports.

Based in Fort Lauderdale, Fresh Beer is one of two major full-service distributors supplying South Florida, from Palm Beach County to Key West, with some of the highest-rated, most-sought-after beers in the world. They include American breweries like Avery and Boulder Beer Co. in Colorado, and big-name beer dogs like Stone and Dogfish Head.

Their goal: for beer to be enjoyed the way each brewery has intended by getting the freshest product to the customer. After all, they call themselves Fresh Beer for a reason.

Right now, Fresh Beer's nine-person sales team -- St. Cyr included -- is doing its best to help make Florida a better place to find good beer. The entire staff is -- in one way, shape, or form -- a self-declared beer enthusiast and expert.

That's why they don't sell just beer. St. Cyr and his fellow sales team members are also passionate about educating retailers on the importance of selecting the right craft beer for their market and providing a quality product to customers.

And we couldn't be more thankful! Want to thank them, too? Simply stop by any of their favorite beer spots - bars and restaurants that span the distance from Jupiter to Fort Lauderdale - to find an impressive line-up of craft beer, both bottled or tapped.

Starting as far north as Jupiter, they include Little Moirs Foodshack and Leftovers in Abacoa. Not your scene? Try Swampgrass Willys in Palm Beach Gardens or Gratify American Gastropub, Roxy's and The Blind Monk in West Palm. Further south you'll find Fresh Beer products at The Coffee District, Tryst, The Office and the Mellow Mushroom in Delray Beach. And in Fort Lauderdale, swing through Fat Cats.

Most days you can find Kenny enjoying a nice chilled pint at one of his favorite haunts and distribution stops, Grease off Clematis St. in West Palm. That's where we caught up with him to find out what the story is with beer distribution in Florida, and what it means for the future of the craft industry from Palm Beach to Broward County.

Here's what Kenny -- our favorite beer guy -- had to say:

"Florida is behind in the craft beer scene. Right now we're playing catch-up - but that's also why it's a great time to come into the market. And a lot of breweries are starting to realize that." - Kenny, Fresh Beer

Clean Plate Charlie: Why was it so hard to find craft beer in Florida - say - 10 years ago?

Fresh Beer: There just weren't a lot of good beers coming here. Florida has always been behind the times, and part of it has to do with the fact that we're so far from where all the good beer is being made. The [breweries in California and Colorado] just didn't consider Florida a market.

When did you notice craft beer beginning to grow in popularity, and why do you think that it took Florida so long to catch on?

I'd say about four years ago. That's when the craft beer revolution really started, and you began to see more mircobrews in bars. In the early 80's and 90's there were just 30 to 40 microbreweries in the U.S. Today, there are over 1,600. So there are more looking to expand their coverage areas, and more beer coming to Florida. It's a great market to come into.

Who determines what craft beers come to Florida? The distributor or the brewery?

Both. It's really a capacity issue. Take a company like New Belgium Brewing (brewers of the popular Fat Tire out of Fort Collins, Colorado). Everyone is waiting to hear when its beer will be available in Florida, but right now, that brewery is at capacity. They don't want to expand their distribution and take away from their existing customers. They stand behind their product - they don't want to compromise quality for [expanded coverage nationwide].

We [at Fresh Beer] are very picky about who we bring in, as well. We hand pick the beers we want to distribute, and we're looking for breweries - not unlike the New Belgium situation - that are not going to overstress themselves selling to us. That ensures we're delivering a consistent product to our retailers - and ultimately - the consumer.

I hear Florida has a lot of legalities that make it harder for out of state and in state breweries to sell here. What's the deal?

There are some legal hurdles. Florida has what's known as a three-tier system, starting with the manufacturer, going through the distributor, and ending with the retailer. You can't sell direct to the consumer in the State of Florida. And we can't make any deals. It has to be the same price to everyone. And I agree with that, because I don't believe anyone should have to sacrifice when it comes to good beer.

You have a lot of craft breweries in your portfolio. What else?

Our portfolio is very diverse, and not all of it is craft beer. We also have specialty imports and local breweries signed with us, as well. Our focus is on the little guy. If it's doing well, we want to help them get out there.

What are your top sellers?

We distribute beer from more than 30 American craft breweries, five local craft breweries and work with over a dozen specialty import breweries. But, of those we handle, I'd have to say the top sellers include Dogfish Head, Shipyard, Magic Hat and Stone.

Where do most of your beers from out of state come from?

A lot are from California and Colorado. We also work with breweries from Maine, Oregan - even Georgia and our new one from Ohio.

New beer?

Our newest addition this year is Hoppin' Frog from Ohio. They've got some really great beer. It will be available in March or April.

Where do you find the new breweries you're interested in adding to your distribution list?

We get a lot of input from trade publications, but we also get a lot of input from beer festivals from all over the country. Most of the time, however, the breweries find us when they're ready to come to Florida. Not all, but a majority. And once they sign with us, they can't be sold through another distributor.

So how did you learn so much about beer?

I spent some time in Colorado, where I visited my father as a teen, and my older brother and sister [when they attended] college in Ft.Collins, where [the] New Belgium [brewery is located]. And I always had an interest in micro brews. I started working at Brewzzi's when I was 21, and after befriending the brewmaster, I occasionally assisted in the brewery, which increased my interest in beer. Contacts I made through my relationship with Brewzzi's led me to a opportunity with Fresh Beer. So most my knowledge is on the job training and self sought education through internet or beer books.

You like to educate the people you sell to. Tell us about that.

[Craft beer] is a handmade product - no different than a boutique wine. I do a lot educating the retailer on how there is a demand for craft beer and, in addition, how much money can be made, even though these products are expensive. [Beer is] so diversified now.

How often do you have to intervene when someone orders just a light beer?

I hate to see someone order a pizza loaded with an assortment of toppings, and wash it down with a flavorless beer. If you get the right beer with the right food, there is this harmony - like magic. I think it works better than with wine, even.

We'd have to agree. Thanks for your time - and all that great beer.

Follow Clean Plate Charlie Facebook on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.

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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna