Badass Women in the Detroit Beer Industry: Samantha Buerger
Your origin story. How did you find yourself working in the industry?
I started working at Grand Trunk Pub in April 2011— it’s an all Michigan craft beer bar located in the Financial District of Detroit. I really didn’t know much about craft beer when I started serving tables there. I quickly fell in love with New Holland Poet Oatmeal Stout, which is something we always had on draft since we cooked our sauerkraut in it for our famous Reuben sandwiches. I had never tasted anything like it or any of the other beers on draft. I was freshly 21 and used to drinking cheap whiskey and whatever 40oz I could get my hands on. I quickly fell head over heels for craft beer. I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could. So I started to network, read, and take classes whenever and wherever I could. Over my 5 years of employment, I moved from waitress to bartender and then ended up taking over the management of the beer program.
I ended up leaving Grand Trunk Pub and working at One Eyed Betty’s for a few months until I snagged a job with a now defunct distributor called Labacon, which sold the Twelve Percent Imports portfolio (Evil Twin, Against the Grain, Stillwater, Omnipollo, etc.). I started with a coworker but within a month became the only rep covering Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties. I also helped with putting together inventories and logistics for delivery. I worked an insane amount of hours and put a ridiculous amount of miles on my car, but in the end it gave me the skills I needed to confidently apply for my current position.
What drew you to Detroit specifically?
I started hanging out in Detroit when I was 17 years old. I had become interested in electronic music and found a great group of people a bit older than myself who were willing to guide me through the scene. They were kind enough to help me get into establishments that had an age requirement, but only because I didn’t drink. I just wanted to dance, and I was respectful of the places willing to allow me to do so.
Although the reason I fell in love with this city is because of the people. I have met the most passionate, artistic, generous, and loyal friends here. Grand Trunk really gave me a bird’s eye view of this city. It was the only place in the area with its lights on late at night for a long time, and that meant it was where all the townies flocked for late night drinks and eats. Many of the people I met there have helped me along my journey and become a huge part of my life.
What does an average day, or week, or month (since I know it’s always changing) look like for you as a brewery rep?
This is a hard one, considering it really is ever changing. One day I may be working with a distributor rep, riding around with them and hitting accounts. Or I could be using my office day to send emails, submit for posters, organize events, plan my next week, and recap my previous week. Another day, I’ll be on my own walking into chains, liquor stores, bars, and restaurants to speak to whoever is in charge of buying while possibly ending my day doing a tasting or tap event.
How many accounts do you have in your territory?
I cover all of Monroe and the majority of Wayne county, which means I have about 1,100 accounts in my area.
What’s your favorite part of your position?
I love that each day is different. I enjoy a challenge; with every week, I find that I have something new and different to work on or fix. My schedule is never the same, and I have the pleasure of meeting new people every week.
Favorite event you’ve been a part of?
I really look forward to the Bayview to Mackinac race every year. We spend most of the week leading up to the race hosting events and activating in the Bell’s Oasis tent in Port Huron. It’s a great time. I have a huge affinity for water, and I love seeing all the boats and meeting all the sailors. One of the highlights for me was having the great honor of riding on Bella, our watercraft made of empty kegs and firkins, the past two years.
What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career as a craft beer rep?
Do your homework. Network and attain as much knowledge as possible. Talk to others in the industry and get a feel for what really goes on in the life of a rep. We get to have a lot of fun, but that comes with just as much hard work. If you really want to put yourself in front of the pack, get some distributor experience under your belt.
Who’s been your greatest influence in the industry?
I look up to all of the women in leadership roles at Bell’s. I’m so thankful to work for a company that takes diversity so seriously and strives to employ and empower women in roles that have been traditionally held by men in our industry. The women at our company are some of the hardest working people I have ever met, and I have learned so much from them already and look forward to continuing to do so.
Favorite beer at the moment?
I have a real obsession with Official at the moment, our new year round hazy IPA. It has notes of tropical and stone fruits with a slightly dry finish and balanced bitterness. I can’t get enough of it.
What challenges have you faced being a woman in craft beer?
Being a woman in a male dominated industry isn’t easy. Out in the market, I have dealt with men who seem to think I know little, if anything about beer. They will either test my knowledge with questions they think I can’t answer or mansplain me on subjects they assume I don’t know enough about. I have been sexually harassed at events, mostly with words, but on occasion with unwanted touching. I once had a man, while staring at my chest, tell me that “those remind me that I need to buy a gallon of milk on the way home.” I’m commonly called “the Bell’s Girl,”— last time I checked I’m a 29 year old WOMAN. I am not unique in being treated differently because of my gender or having to work twice as hard to gain respect with buyers. I am just thankful there are other badass women in this industry to share my battle stories.
What are your favorite spots in Detroit where you like to relax and have a beer?
You’ll find me more often than not at Checker Bar, upstairs or down. Many of my friends work there and you can’t go wrong with any of the items on their menu. If I’m looking to grab brunch or some fancier cuisine you’ll find me at Selden Standard sitting at the bar, typically with a glass of wine in hand. Speaking of wine, I spend a fair amount of my time at Motor City Wine. Dave and Melissa, the owners, have curated such a great selection of wines and in the summer they have the best rosé list around not to mention an amazing European-esque patio.
If you have free time what are you up to?
Usually spending time with my husband and our two beautiful pitbulls Genevieve and Pickles at our new home in Southwest Detroit. Our house doesn’t need a ton of repairs, but as all new homeowners know there’s always something to work on. We love to cook and we spend a lot of time in the kitchen together working on our favorite recipes or creating something new.
If it’s nice out you’ll typically find me on two wheels taking a ride with friends. I belong to the bicycle club that started Slow Roll, Bikes & Murder, and we spend time not only riding together but also putting together bike races and events like our Third Annual Flower Day Alley Cat coming up on May 19th at Checker Bar.
If you could change one thing in the industry, or magically educate every consumer about, what would it be?
That this is my passion and it may also be yours, but please be respectful of my job. I worked really hard to get to where I am, and I continue to do so now. Saying that, this is something you would like to do when you retire or insinuating that my job is easy because it’s fun is hurtful. Us sales reps work tons of hours and for that we enjoy having some fun as well. We get to drink great beer for a living, but we also have to spend many hours away from our family when others might be sitting down to dinner at home. Just be conscious that your perception of what we do may not be the reality.