Companies across many industries are moving toward a direct-to-consumer business model, and this is echoed among craft breweries that have adopted a two-tier distribution system of brewer to retailer instead of the traditional three-tier model of brewer, distributor, retailer. Photographer Matt Coats traveled to New York breweries using self distribution and captured the people and processes, from the inside out.

Self Distributed was initially a portrait project, and Coats began by photographing Chris Prout and Erik Olsen of Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co. The project expanded as he learned more about self distribution and the amount of work that goes into it. “The job is so demanding, and the brewers often balance families and careers in addition to self distribution,” Coats says. “The determination these guys have to keep doing it everyday – I wouldn’t have lasted a week!”

After prohibition was repealed, three-tier distribution models were set up in effort to eliminate close ties between brewers and bar owners. Self distribution laws vary from state to state, but New York’s craft breweries in particular benefit from the two-tier model. Anthony Accardi of Transmitter Brewing elaborates, “Distributing is essentially a second or potentially third job to a brewer. You have to sell the beer to clients and then get it to them. In NYC neither of those tasks is easy.”

Although two-tier distribution is more demanding, eliminating the distributor can mean significant profit increase in addition to less obvious benefits. “Self distributing can be immensely helpful in understanding our customers,” Accardi says. “We can talk to them about the beer we are dropping off, we can get a sense of a bar owner’s interests as well as the vibe of a particular venue. I can see how a bar treats a keg of beer.”

In a world where customers are increasingly discerning about what they consume and where it comes from, two-tier distribution benefits both brewers and consumers by establishing a more meaningful connection to a high quality product.

Photography by Matt Coats
Images 1-4: Other Half Brewing
Images 5-7: Greenpoint Beer & Ale Company
Image 8: Finback Brewery
Images 9 & 10: Rockaway Brewing Company
Images 11 – 13: Gun Hill Brewing Co.
Images 14 & 15: Transmitter Brewing
Images 16 – 19: Single Cut Beers