It’s not even lunchtime, and Wes Duke has made six stops on his Wednesday route.
For three years, Duke has been an on-premises sales representative for Brown Distributing Co. He services only restaurants and bars, he says — “anywhere with draft beer.”
When we meet at Supper around 11 a.m., he’s already visited Sticky Rice, Richard’s Restaurant & Gentleman’s Club, the Sidewalk Cafe, Dot’s Back Inn, Curbside Cafe and Station 2.
Like an obedient student, I follow him through the bustling kitchen and out the back door to the walk-in, where he assesses the stock to see what might be needed during the next week.
Tablet in hand, he tracks down the bar manager to extol the newly available Ardent Craft Ales’ Earl Grey Brown Ale. He notes the restaurant’s inventory levels and suggests how to fill gaps. “Some tell you what they want,” he says, “others want you to tell them what they have.”
And everyone, I soon learn, is on the lookout for the newest thing.
11:30 a.m. — Arriving at Postbellum, Duke finds the manager unavailable, busy with a renovation project. No moss grows under a beer rep, so we move on.
11:35 — Lunch is in full swing at City Dogs. Blues Traveler blares from the speakers, and a server immediately informs Duke that they’re running low on Bud Light, a major problem. Because City Dogs hums and its walk-in is small, Duke visits twice weekly to ensure that stock is rotated and the inventory is ready for events. He’ll be back Friday with Super Bowl signs. One final reminder about a scheduled training session for the staff, and we’re out.
11:45 — We’re back at Postbellum for a tasting of Bold Rock Citrus Cider, a new flavor brought out early when the cidery ran out of the blood oranges that it was going to use for its winter run. I’m asked for my opinion. I give it a thumbs-up for warm-weather sipping.
The manager needs IPAs, so Duke reels off options — Victory Brewing Co.’s Vital, Kindred Spirit Brewing’s Headspace, Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery’s Nonesuch — before discussing what’s on hand, alcohol percentages and cost per half barrel vs. a full barrel. It’s apparent to a novice that much of this job is inventory management. Duke tries to move beer in and out of the warehouse as quickly as possible.
12:10 p.m. — Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” greets us at Joe’s Inn, a spot with 24 taps and a devoted happy hour crowd. I’m told Joe’s moves through a lot of beer. It’s here I meet my first keg hoarder — an owner who’s willing to buy extra kegs of limited-release beers because customers will flock to the bar when everyone else in town runs out. Today, Ardent Craft Ales’ Earl Grey Brown Ale gets the hoarder nod.
With this order complete, we stay to eat lunch at Joe’s. Duke says he tried bringing lunch from home, but it was always gone by 10:30 a.m. Now he works a meal into his daily route.
1:30 — At Commercial Taphouse & Grill, a longtime beer-geek destination, Duke is pouring Victory Brewing Co.’s Prima Pils while the manager reminisces how they carried pilsners “when they were nothing.” Now they’re back in style, he says, and his customers — “IPAed out” — want something different.
2:00 — At the Savory Grain, talk turns to the availability of Triple Crossing Brewing Co. beer because it’s easily a bestseller here — and with 24 taps, that’s saying something.
By now, I not only know the entire Earl Grey spiel, but also its pricing, so I do the talking, making it particularly satisfying when the manager orders it.
2:30 — Tap handles in hand for tonight’s Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. tap takeover, we arrive at Foo Dog to do double duty: We need to take orders and to ensure preparation is complete for the event.
Handles are the bane of a beer rep’s existence because restaurants tend to collect or lose the pricey objects, making it part of Duke’s job to retrieve them. Foo Dog’s manager needs a Center of the Universe Brewing Co. handle, so Duke heads out and grabs one from his car.
3:00 — There are five stops left before Duke can call it quits: Metro Bar & Grill, Sheppard Street Tavern, 3 Monkeys Bar and Grill, F.W. Sullivan’s and Lady N’Awlins Cajun Cafe.
Success for Duke is measured by daily emails from the boss who shares any rep’s noteworthy accomplishments. “It’s motivating to see what others do,” Duke says. “Plus you always want to be mentioned in the email.”