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Forsaking Falstaff for craft beer

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The warehouse is massive. And filled with beer.

Of all the bottles and varieties, Chip Mims of Mims Distributing, can't choose a favorite. "I love all my children," he said.

Chip is also a son of the beer business. His father, H.H. "Boots" Mims, bought the small beer distributorship in 1964 after working as a sales manager for six months. H.H.'s identical twin brother, Joe, joined in 1966. They had three sales routes, and Falstaff was the beer of choice. In the '70s, the flagship brand was Miller Lite but soon Mims introduced craft beers.

Today Mims, based in Raleigh, is run by Chip, 50 and his 49-year-old cousin, Jeff. I got lessons in history and beer as I sat on a stool at the bar in the company's conference room. (A beer distributor must have a bar.)

We were drinking a bottle of barrel-aged Speedway Stout, a beer that gets a world-class ranking of 100 percent on BeerAdvocate.com and RateBeer.com. The imperial stout is a boozy one for sure, weighing in at 12 percent ABV.

Chip is also a lager fan; Jeff pegs a beer to his mood, but he has a penchant for Belgian sours. "If I had a favorite, it'd be Rodenbach," he said.

The cousins talked of the cyclical nature of the beer industry. One day light beer is king; the next it is craft. The latest generation drinks better beer but less of it. Yet the demand is such that there are 100 breweries and brewpubs in North Carolina alone.

"There's been a generational shift," said Chip. "Consumers today aren't drinking like their parents."

Chip remembers his first craft beer. "It was an Anchor Steam," he said. "And I had it on draft at a hotel in Pinehurst."

Anchor Brewing is part of the company's craft beer portfolio, which includes Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada, Bear Republic, Foothills Brewing, Lagunitas and AleSmith Brewing Co.

Landing Alesmith, a mighty brewery in San Diego, was a coup, Chip said: "We are known as a hotbed for craft consumption. Lagunitas used North Carolina as a test market for their IPA," he said.

Chip hosts a beer podcast called Tales From the Cask. Episode 62 aired on July 4 and featured beer tastings of AleSmith's Nut Brown Ale, Boon's Geuze Mariage Parfait and The Alchemist's Heady Topper. You'll also find news of beer laws—Missouri just passed legislation allowing single-bottle beer sales—as well as trends like World Cup beer pairings.

Considering the vast amount of beer available to a distributor, Mims has to vet potential offerings. "We try to be over-selective with our brands," Jeff said. "We want to be able to ensure success."

And to ensure success on his end, Mims has a cicerone-certified sales team, the beer equivalent of, say, a wine sommelier.

Nonetheless, "it's the brewers and the story behind the brewery that still matter, Chip said.

As for Falstaff, though, its last brewery closed in 1990.

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