When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the Federal Government instituted the Three-Tier System for alcohol. This mandated a “middle man” between the producers of beer, wine, and spirits and the retail establishments that sell them. In order for a bar, restaurant, or bottle shop to have alcohol available to its customers, they must have a state issued license to purchase their alcohol from a distributor. The motive was to prevent the violence and mayhem that existed during The Great Experiment’s era of bootleggers, speak easies, and Mafioso’s. That same year, Robert Harold (RH) Barringer started a beer distribution company of the same name.
Like the rest of the beer industry, RH Barringer started off with only a few brands, predominantly Budweiser. As the industry diversified, so did RH Barringer. Today they offer the largest selection of North Carolina craft beer brands than any other distributor in the state, and at the helm of the Craft Beer Division is Robert Harold Barringer’s great-granddaughter, Brianna Craig. She represents the fourth generation of the family to take an active role in the company since its founding eighty-three years ago, and the first woman to take an interest in carrying on the RH Barringer legacy. Now that she’s expecting her first child - a daughter - she’s looking forward to raising the fifth generation to blossom in the growing craft beer industry, while she is still growing into the shoes that have been set out for her.
“Craft beer is what ultimately drew me to the company,” Brianna explains. “I pursued an accounting degree at NC State because I wasn’t sure if the company was going to be a good fit for me. At the time it was mostly domestic driven which consists of sales, loading trucks, deliveries and drivers which are more physically demanding and not as [mentally]challenging as I would have preferred. Craft presents challenges and opportunities to constantly learn, change, and grow and this ultimately drew [me] in. I started feeling like I had a field I could really contribute to.”
I think this is the first time I’ve heard anyone say something quite like this, and I wanted to know more about her take on craft beer being the catalyst for women entering the field. She continued, “I’ve never thought of beer as a ‘man’s industry.’ It’s not that women weren’t allowed in, rather it’s that women didn’t have an interest in beer before craft. Now we are seeing a shift in the demographics. Here at RH Barringer, we started out with just two women in our office. Now about half of our office staff is female, let alone our sales staff, which is about 30% female. Whereas before the craft movement, there just wasn’t a whole lot to tickle your fancy. It was a lot of the same styles with subtle differences. It was a dude’s drink, and women preferred wine. I think a lot of that has to do with how many styles of wine there are. That keeps it interesting. Now craft comes along, and there are a lot of styles of beer. All of a sudden beer is interesting to women the same way wine has been.”
Brianna, who is a Certified Cicerone, is excited to see the industry growing and changing in a way that continues to engage women across the three tiers of the beer industry. In this family run business, she has found a unique way to blend the roles of motherhood and Craft Beer Specialist. “I get to be that woman at the beer festival that people look at and wonder, ‘Why is there a pregnant lady here?’ That’s when I get to explain that I’m here helping with the festival in a professional, educated capacity. I get to be the odd ball person that people notice because they aren’t used to seeing [other pregnant women] in that atmosphere. I think I can use that to let people know that there are more aspects of beer than just drinking it.”
So how does Brianna plan to balance her leadership role with RH Barringer and her leading role as mother to her protégé?
“I like the idea of having her grow up here,” she explains, referring to the facility she and her family operate. “We did. We had our family Christmas gatherings here in the conference room. We hunted Easter eggs in people’s offices. We’d roll around the warehouse and get all freaked out when they’d close the door to the trailers on us. These are all fun memories to have, but I also want her to be more hands on and learning the processes of what’s going on around her. I just want to teach her as much as I can. I wish I had years more knowledge than I had starting out. I just want to give her all the opportunities. I’d like her to see all the positions from the brewing side to retail, so she can have a better idea of what she’s interested in and what she wants to do when she grows up. I want her to know that she can choose where she wants to go. I think by the time she grows up, this industry will be very different. More women are entering all the time. By the time she’s ready to start her career, she’ll fit right in.”
Brianna also has a lot of goals for her own course and the path of RH Barringer. In our brief conversation, it became clear that this family business hasn’t lost the family feel after eighty-three years and major growth. The company has grown to include four branch offices, each with its own warehouse space, plus a wine distributor. Brianna’s main goal is to continue building the family atmosphere of RH Barringer that extends to their staff and their local community. She is looking forward to continuing the work that RH Barringer has already set forth. The company is a community resource through offering Cicerone education and by hosting homebrew clubs and beer enthusiast groups in their state of the art homebrew kitchen. She’s also looking forward to strengthening her team by identifying each person’s strong suits and putting them in the right positions to showcase those strengths. “Every employee is like family. It’s our job to support them and make sure they have everything they need to be successful,” she finished.