PUB CRAWL EXTRA: An invite to Five Star Distributing? Of course we said yes

Stan Ziherl is the president of Five Star Distributing in Columbia City. Like beer? Ziherl is your guy. (By Justin Kenny of news-sentinel.com)

Our Pub Crawl and First Impressions features at news-sentinel.com have taken us to some pretty unique and exotic locales around northeast Indiana.

There was O’Sullivan’s of course.

And who could forget Sweet Lou’s Pizza?

And, well, actually those are the only two places we have visited so far as we check out some of the area’s bars and new restaurants and eateries and give our thoughts.

But despite our limited reach thus far, we did catch the eye of Stan Ziherl, President of Five Star Distributing, who invited us out to visit his 100,000-square-foot facility in Columbia City to learn more about how the distribution business works.

Beer stacked to the heavens at Five Star Distributing. (By Justin Kenny of news-sentinel.com)

Oh, and to drink some beer of course.

Most people when buying a case or ordering a pint are giving nary a thought to exactly how the beer was delivered to the liquor store or the bar. But it is an important part of the three-tiered process that gets the suds from the brewery to your stomach.

Back in the early 20th century, the breweries controlled everything, from making the beer to taking it to market to selling it to the consumer. After the 13 years of hell that was Prohibition from 1920-33, a new system came to be that was meant to smooth out and divide the responsibility of alcohol production, distribution, and sales.

Five Star Distributing does business both ways, buying beer from breweries big (MillerCoors) and small (18th Street Brewery) then selling it — to the tune of three million cases a year — to over 1,000 retail customers in northeast Indiana, from grocery and liquor stores to bars and restaurants.

We admittedly didn’t know what to expect when we arrived for our visit. How exciting can trucks being loaded with beer be?

All calm at Five Star Distributing before beer delivery begins for the next day. (By Justin Kenny of news-sentinel.com)

Turns out, Ziherl and his staff can make it mighty compelling.

For starters, Ziherl is legit when it comes to being a down-to-Earth guy who is in the business because he loves beer. Originally from northwest Indiana, Ziherl came to the areas just as the craft beer craze was starting to gain some momentum.

“In April of 2009, we rolled out New Belgium (locally), and that kind of got things started,” Ziherl said. “We were fortunate in that we were the low-share player with domestic brands (in the area), so we said, ‘Let’s see what we can do with craft and attract a workforce that would represent us and execute our plan.”

It worked, as Five Star Distributing has continued to grow, despite as Ziherl points out, “for the last 20 years, the beer business hasn’t grown, the pie just gets sliced thinner and thinner” as more beer producers and potential distributors enter the fray.”

After a few beers in Five Star’s primary conference room (yeah, there is a bar in the conference room), we ventured out into the warehouse to learn more.

In reality, mountains of brew is actually pretty stimulating for beer drinkers like us. The fact that we already had a few likely make it even more exciting. But as Ziherl points out, making friends over beer is the best of both worlds, and we sure did that when we visited Five Star.

Indiana was a late adopter of the craft craze, with approximately 160 craft breweries now operating in the Hoosier State. Michigan meanwhile, is close to 300. As that beer pie (mmmmmm, sounds tasty) continues to be sliced more as more breweries enter the fray, you can bet Five Star Distributing will be looking to be a buyer of that beer.

And we will continue to hit up and review the places that serve that beer.

The Pub Crawl by Justin Kenny and Dan Vance appears monthly at news-sentinel.com. Stay tuned on Thursday, March 15 as the duo visits a bar perfect for the start of March Madness. Reach out to the fellas at jkenny@news-sentinel.com and dvance@news-sentinel.com.

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