How We Got Our Brands


With my trip to Belgium approaching I will be posting more about the breweries I visit, especially those that will be joining the portfolio.  Sometimes people ask about how why we have the beers in our portfolio that we do. So at the risk of explaining our incredibly top secret selection process (aka fortune, serendipity, divine intervention and dumb luck) I will do that. I think I’ll follow this up by posting a little more info about my (mis)adventures in running a company, as beer itself is one blog worthy topic, but the “Beer Business” is another altogether.

How we got our brands:

Cantillon: Cantillon was our first brewery. Technically, you need two suppliers to get an agent license, so that’s somewhat meaningless, but there’s something I like about the fact that Cantillon was the first brewery that said “yes” to RainCity Brands. When I was doing research about starting RainCity Brands I talked with Chester Carey at Brewery Creek, and he told me that Jean Van Roy was open to the idea of selling into BC when Chester had asked him previously. So I followed up via email. Done deal. Pretty damn simple, the rest is history, yadda yadda. It also helped that Gerry Erith, the manager at Brewery Creek committed to half my order on the spot.

Pretty Things: I was actually looking into starting a brewery, and it’s no secret that this is my long term plan. I wasn’t researching beers this particular day, as much as I was researching business models for breweries and I found Dann Paquette and Pretty Things. I called Dann and asked him about his business model (click here for that). He was amazingly helpful and he told me everything I wanted to know – he even told me his actual sales and expenses, and since I’ve seen him share those publicly at conferences. A month or three passed and I realized I couldn’t start a brewery yet, but I could start an import agency. I phoned Dann back, knowing that his beers weren’t distributed west of Pennsylvania and asked if I could bring them to BC. He said ‘yes’ too. Done deal. Pretty damn simple, the rest is history, yadda yadda.

So now I’m thinking “This is going to be easy. I call a brewery, and they agree to work with me (why wouldn’t they sell me product, right?)” This thought is hilarious to me today, but keep in mind, at this point I’d yet to actually import anything and I’d never sold a case of beer in my life, so I didn’t know what the hell was going on.

The fact is there are lots of reasons to say “No” to and importer in a foreign market. More on that later. But this means I got a lot of politely worded ‘No thank you’s’….are you sensing a segue????

Upright Brewing: My rebound brand. I got rejected by a brand that I really wanted as part of the portfolio, and it was one that I thought I was going to get (it went to another agent). I’ve since recovered, but in the depths of my rejected state I played on the internet for a few hours looking for a brewery that offered promise. I found Upright and called owner Alex Ganum. He was open to importing to BC so I drove to Portland that weekend to meet him and taste his beers. They were fantastic, and I’ve never looked backed. For the record I’m much happier that I got Upright than the other brand, and I wouldn’t ever trade it out for anything. But that’s how it happened, rebound style.

De Ranke and De la Senne*: These are grouped, here’s why. I was in Chicago for CBC 2010 and I was at The Bluebird with Dann and Martha from Pretty Things. I asked Dann to recommend a beer, and he said ‘Taras Boulba’. I loved it, and I made a quip 5 minutes later that I’d love to import this beer when someone from their US Importer, the Shelton Brothers, pointed to the Yvan de Baets and said “Go talk to him”. Same thing happened with De Ranke and brewer Nino Bacelle, I was drinking the XX Bitter at the next bar we went to and he was right there. Turns out Nino and Yvan are friends, and I spent much of the week with them.  Great beer, dumb luck.

*Brasserie De La Senne won’t be available in BC until the Fall/Winter due to the recent construction of their brewery.

Boundary Bay Brewery: Dustin Sepkowski. Dustin, long time craft beer/single malt-whisky slinger introduced me to Ed Bennett and Janet Lightner from Boundary Bay because he really wanted to get a cask up here for a festival at Central City Brewing, his current employer.  I was all over it because it’s not very often you get to import a local beer from another country (Bellingham is closer to Vancouver than Victoria is). Their beer is very well known up here, and very good to boot. Believe it or not, the Boundary Bay IPA is the first, and currently the only IPA in our portfolio.

We have a few other brands that we plan to add this year, so I may be able to add some more to this shortly.