At this year’s Phoenix’s Great Arizona Beer Festival, among the 100-plus breweries pouring samples this weekend, there are a few new tastes on tap, thanks in large part to Valley upstart Little Guy Distributing. The year-old company will have three booths representing six breweries, which make up two-thirds of its list of suppliers. Little Guy is aptly named for it’s tiny size, but it’s big news to metro-Phoenix beer geeks, because it specializes in high-end, lesser-known brands that otherwise wouldn’t be available in the Valley. One example is Sonoma County’s superlative Bear Republic Brewing Co. Brewmaster Richard Norgrove Jr. says his company hadn’t planned to expand into Arizona until Little Guy made a pitch.
Little Guy’s primary outlets are the AJ’s Purveyor of Fine Foods chain, Tops and Sun Devil liquor stores in Tempe and Mesa, and Papago Brewing Co. That last one is no surprise – the Scottsdale beer bar was co-founded by Little Guy’s “lead ferret” (beer scout), Bruce McConnell. “When Ron (Kloth) and I opened Papago and started looking for beers to serve, we found out that the options here were very limited,” McConnell says. “The high-volume fast movers are the things the bigger (distributors) are carrying, so we saw an opportunity there.” It was McConnell’s son, C.B., who had the idea. He incorporated the company last March, and later was joined by his father and a third partner, Andy Keyser.
Now, Little Guy is poised for growth, says the elder McConnell (who had to sell his interest in Papago before entering the wholesale business). Little Guy recently landed distribution of Washington state’s pioneering Bert Grant’s microbrewery, and the company has more than doubled its client list and just bought its first refrigerated delivery truck. “Being awarded the Grant’s line, now we know we need to step it up,” McConnell says. “They had enough faith in us and our business plan, but now we have to deliver.”