Friday, June 3, 2011

Week #22 - Cameron Saunders

As morning creeps in and front of house staffs across Philly begin to brace themselves for a marathon week of capacity crowds, special guests, special events, people wanting what they can't have, people wanting more of what there's none left of, and the yearly hysteria that is Philly Beer Week there's one guy out there that's shifted into cruise control. At this point he's been going out of his mind for the last three weeks, he's wrangled more tap handles than you can shake a stick at, he's coordinated and tracked down beer for, like, 80 beer menus, and somehow he managed a workout or 12 in there to. He's Cameron Saunders, the dude that sells all that Shangy's beer in Philly. Cameron threw himself head first into beer distribution and quickly became the guy that everybody loves to have a beer with. To use one of his phrases (and there are many) we've had lunches that are just epic.

If you see Cameron this week in your travels pat him on the back, buy him a beer, and offer him a ride to the next bar.

How long were you interested in beer and thinking about the beer business before you got hired by Shangy's?

Well, I have been drinking craft beer since 2000 when I was going to school down in Florida. I was already drinking beers like Sierra Nevada, Red Hook, and Pete’s Wicked Ale, but the kicker was when my wife Jes and I went to a Belgian bar down there and were blown away at what a great beer should be like. The bartender kept giving us free samples of Chimay, Corsendonk, Duvel, and Lindemans.

From that day we both were hooked on great beers and constantly were trying new beers. I started home brewing in 2006. That helped me gain a better knowledge of how beer is made and all the science and hard work involved. I was in sales already and figured why not try to combine what I love with what I’m good at.

I went to a bar all the time called Quotations in Media and became friends with the owner, Mike. He helped get me in contact with Shangy’s. They were looking for a sales rep in Philly in the near future. That near future took about six months of follow up and finally I got a call to go on an interview. Two weeks later I was hired and now I’m a beer industry lifer! I love the business, the people in it, and most importantly the beers I’m selling.

Whenever I come back to Philly it seems like you have stories upon stories of events. What are some of the craziest ones you recall?

We did a Bell’s Brewing event during Philly Beer Week 2010 where they brought 31 different beers to City Tap House. There were about 600 people there at one point trying to get their hands on all the special beers that never leave the brewpub. It was NUTS!

This is more about me getting crazy but Hans Peter Drexler, head brew master of Schneider Brewery in Germany, came over for a couple days. The day before he left we did a daylong tour of the city with events starting at 11:30AM. We had four different events set up throughout the day. At each bar we drank about four half liters of the delicious nectar. If you know Schneider you know his beers are all hovering around 7- 8.5% ABV. Then the Eisbock firkin comes out,12% ABV, and then the schnapps shots. By the time 1AM rolls around I crawl in a cab and may or may not have forgot where I lived and told the driver to let me off here. That “here” was about 4 miles from home and I pretty much walked through the hood to get there. Again, that may or may not have happened.

This business is all about relationships. Is it hard sometimes to have tough business conversations in an industry full of cool people that you're working with one minute and partying with the next?

Yes it is! You see these people every week for sales calls, then you go hang out at their bar for beers at night. You get to be really close to a lot of the owners and managers who make the business decisions. If they happen to be down with our company it can be a tough thing to say 'Hey man I really need to talk to you about our numbers'. We are down such and such percent with you and really need to figure a way to get back on track. That’s a hard thing to have to switch the buddy buddy off and get back to a strictly business persona. Luckily, it doesn’t happen often.

Tap Handles are awesome, right? In your opinion, what's the best way for tap handles to get from brewery (or manufacturer/warehouse) to the tap tower at the bars on your sales route?

There’s no way I could hate tap handles any more than I do now! They are the bane of my existence. It’s a constant struggle to make sure every bar has all the right handles. Breweries can’t send us enough handles and we don’t order enough of them so I’m always robbing Peter to pay Paul. The best way to deal with them is blow them all up and use generic handles. Then people might actually buy a beer based on style or flavor instead of, “Hey I want the beer with the pencil handle or the one with the shotgun or witch on it.” Yes I know, I’m bitter!

What does Craft Beer as a whole need right now? (more events? less events? more session beers?)

I absolutely think we need better-made session beers. The craft beer drinker probably is drinking beers with an average of 7% ABV and higher. You can only sustain drinking those for so long at that rate. The whole point of drinking beer is to hang out with friends and have great conversations and to meet some new people. Maybe because it tastes amazing too but it’s hard to hang out if you’re hammered three beers in within an hour at the bar.

I think all the breweries will at some point come back around to nice low alcohol beers that you can knock back all night. It will help them sell more beer and help the bars make more money. New Holland, as you know, is a great example of this. The Mad Hatter IPA is 5.5% ABV and tastes amazing. It’s a beer that satisfies the hop head but something you can sit back and enjoy the ride with too. I love how all the core brands are really low alcohol beers but don’t lack anything in the flavor department. (end New Holland plug)

What's your favorite thing about working in Philly?

I would have to say the vast amount of beer available to us! We have almost every brand worth drinking at this point. Philly is one of if not THE best beer drinking city in the country and because of that you can hardly go to any restaurant without finding great craft beers on their menu. That makes my job easier because the average Joe here knows a lot about beer and already knows the brands I sell before I even walk in the door. It’s great.

If you could put together Cameron's Ultimate Beer Dinner where in Philly would it be and what beers would be served?

Hmmmm. I’m gonna go with Osteria. They have such a good array of beer friendly food including cheese plates, salads, pastas, pizza, and dishes with meats you don’t see all the time. I would have a sour beer dinner there including Lost Abbey Red Poppy, Girardin Geuze, Russian River Consecration, and Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek. I would also add in Tripel Karmeliet for the dessert just because I can.

If you could have one beer, from Shangy's or otherwise, on the kegerator at all times what would it be?

Why would you do this to me?? That’s a really tough question but I’m not going to take the easy way out. I would probably say either Bell’s Two Hearted or Avery Joe’s Pilsner. I am really on a pilsner kick right now. It’s such a nice beer to sit back and drink all night without getting too hammered.

Ok tough question here...for one reason or another you can only go to one more Phish show. Maybe you're losing your hearing from too many Biscuits shows or you develop an allergy to veggie burritos, something. What venue would you want to see them at and if you could call the encore what would it be?

I would probably say Red Rocks only because I’ve never been there before and it seems to be an epic place to see a show. The encore is a tough question but I would say Crosseyed and Painless into Punch You in the Eye. That sounds perfect as long as I still have a good beer in my hand and they haven’t stopped selling yet.

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