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Recently, I traded steel for beer. After many years of working for U. S. Steel, I accepted a position with Indiana Beverage, a 75-year-old family owned independent distributor located in Valparaiso.

Perhaps it was destiny. There are pictures of me playing with empty returnable beer bottles at a very early age.

Beer has always been my adult beverage of choice, but prior to working for Indiana Beverage, I never thought about how my favorite beers arrived at my local retailers or the role of the independent distributor in that process.

An independent distributor delivers products from the brewery to market at retail. A walk through the beer section of your local grocery or liquor store reveals tremendous selection. A visit to your local tavern or restaurant provides numerous choices unavailable just a few years ago. Domestic, import and craft brewers continue to add excitement and energy to the beer industry. Northwest Indiana has some great local craft brewers.

One of the most important roles of the independent distributor is to provide the infrastructure, marketing, capital and personnel these breweries need to reach a wide network of retailers. Through the independent distributor, newer brewers can compete against established brands in the marketplace. For example at Indiana Beverage, we distribute 1,200 unique brands of beer and cider.

Independent distributors also protect consumers from outdated, defective and/or counterfeit alcohol. Product is checked daily by distributor personnel both in the warehouse and in the market. Distributors maintain detailed records that make transparent the chain of custody of alcoholic beverages from supplier to retailers. For example, during a recent recall from a brewery, we were able to track and secure the product in less than 24 hours. Other important functions of the independent distributor include ensuring sales and deliveries are made only to licensed retailers and providing for the efficient collection of taxes on alcohol products.

Most important, the core of an independent distributor is the people. Independent distributors employ hard-working, dedicated people who are your neighbors, friends and community partners. These local family-sustaining jobs support and stimulate economic investment in our region. Independent distributors also provide leadership and financial support for local community initiatives.

Independent distributors are a key part of a system that provides variety and protection to consumers, brewer access to market, and local economic investment. I am proud to be a part of that process. Now when I enjoy my favorite beers, I understand and appreciate the dedication and hard work of the independent distributor.

Jill Ritchie is vice president and general counsel for Valparaiso-based Indiana Beverage. The opinions are the writer’s.

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Senior Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.