From the latest issue of BC Craft Beer News
You want to own a piece of the craft beer industry but you aren’t independently wealthy nor do you want to sell your soul to raise $1+ Million to open a brewery. Now what? Well, there’s another way to share great beer in Canada and that’s to become an importer.
Meet Adam Henderson, founder of Copper & Theory Artisan Beer Supply Co. Adam has been passionate about craft beer for as long as he can recall. He was a nerdy beer guy before it was cool to be one (it is cool now, right?). This 31 year old entrepreneur would show up at university parties with a mixed 6-pack of the newest beers available in his hometown of Toronto – Moosehead, Amsterdam, Creemore, Camerons. I’m guessing most of his friends were chugging Canadian or Labatt Blue and thought he was nuts. Lucky for us, Adam persevered, followed a girl out to BC in 2003 and started up RainCity Brands in 2009 – now known as Copper & Theory.
Adam has always had a passion for beer and since he was a teenager, he wanted to own a brewery. The first time he drank beer (I’m sure he was of legal drinking age – disclaimer, disclaimer), he wanted to brew beer and at the age of 19, he did just that. He learned how to brew in university – which he says was terrible extract brewing, but brewing nonetheless. Adam took a break from brewing for a few years but started up again when he was miserable in his day job. He learned from Dan’s home brewing, the internet, Van Brewers and from reading Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainasheff. He read this book cover to cover many times and it paid off. Adam won many home brewing medals in BC and Alberta. He doesn’t have the space to brew currently but I suspect he’ll be back brewing in the future.
|Adam - hating every minute of this...|
Not only has Adam tried his hand at brewing, he is a Certified Cicerone and BJCP Certified Judge. Suffice to say, Adam knows his beers and his client portfolio shows that he has picked some fantastic breweries to represent. So how did he go from a home brewer unhappy in his job to founding a beer import business? Well, he quit his job and focused on how he could make beer his job. He looked into contract brewing and wisely though that if he wanted to own a brewery one day, he’d better learn how to sell beer.
Adam was researching business models for breweries and came across Dann Paquette of Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project. Pretty Things uses other breweries to brew, known as contract brewing. Adam spoke with Dann and they candidly discussed everything regarding sales and expenses. In the end, Adam decided that contract brewing wouldn’t work very well in Vancouver (remember, this was 2009) and decided to be an agent.
In order to get an agent license in BC, you need two suppliers. Adam had heard that Jean Van Roy from Brasserie Cantillon Brouwerji in Brussels was open to the idea of selling in BC. Adam emailed Jean, Jean agreed to let Adam sell his beer and Adam purchased the beer. Bam! Done! Adam just landed one of the most sought after breweries in Brussels. Pretty simple, right? Ah, if only all breweries were this easy to negotiate with.
His second brewery was none other than Pretty Things. Adam called Dann back and told him contract brewing wasn’t right for him, so why don’t I sell your beer instead? Done. Ok, so his second supplier was pretty straight-forward as well but I assure you, they’re not all this easy to land. Sadly, in 2012 Pretty Things decided they couldn’t keep up with the local demand and had to stop exporting to BC.
Copper & Theory currently represent fourteen brands from three countries (USA – 7; Belgium – 6; Germany – 1). So how does Adam pick a brewery to represent? First and foremost, he looks at the quality of the beer. As his client, Yvan de Baets from Brasserie De La Senne said, “there are two kinds of beer- good beer and bad beer.” If Adam doesn’t like the beer, it would be really hard for him to sell it. This doesn’t mean that everyone will like it, but Adam does and he can stand behind the beer.
|Import more beer!|
He does admit that he broke his rule once and told Sebastian Sauer from Freigeist Bierkultur that he didn’t care what his beer tasted like; he was going to import it because Sebastian was hilarious. Yes, there may have been a few drinks involved during this conversation but luckily, when Adam tried the beer the next day, it was really good. Phew.
He also looks to represent breweries that are consistent. Not every beer has to be a home run, but they produce quality beers and compliment his portfolio. He doesn’t want to represent too many breweries that do the same thing as they compete against each other. As well, the bigger craft breweries don’t interest Adam, even though you can potentially make a lot of money due to the volume.
And lastly, it’s important that he has a good relationship with each of the breweries. He likes to work with the owners and has visited all of them at their brewery with the exception of Freigeist and Anchorage (give him a break, it’s cold in Alaska!). Although there is a barley wine festival at Anchorage in January so there is some enticement to get him up there.
Importing isn’t all sunshine and roses, it does pose some challenges. Oversees shipping can take a month to arrive in Vancouver and as we know, most beer is better fresh. Importing bottle conditioned beer helps the shelf life and quality. As well, not all liquor stores keep their beers refrigerated, which can affect the quality of beer after arrival in BC. Currency exchange is also an issue. Adam is paid in Canadian dollars when we buy his beers, but he’s purchasing it in USD or Euro. With the Canadian dollar fluctuating, this makes his beers more expensive and if he has to pass this cost on to the consumer, people may not want to buy his beer at a higher price.
Each brewery Adam represents has different expectations of his company. Some want detailed sales and marketing plans and others aren’t concerned with how much beer is sold. The breweries are fourteen unique businesses and while you have Ninkasi wanting to take over the world, Gigantic – despite the name, only wants to get to a 4,000 barrel size. He works on the premise of: we love your beer, we want to work with you, tell us how you want this to work.
The future for Copper & Theory is to grow some of the brands into Alberta (Upright, Glazen Toren, Gigantic, and Breakside by late spring) as well as expanding a few of their existing brands in BC. They will continue to seek out a few tiny, niche breweries with unique products and he plans to import wine coolers. Did you do a double take? Yeah, he was joking about the wine coolers.
Adam reflected that the industry has changed since his first shipment arrived in 2010. There is a lot of new beer coming in and people are thirsty for more. Stores, bars and consumers want the newest beer that comes out, which means there isn’t a lot of brand loyalty. Of course, this makes it challenging to sell the existing product. He has many great local breweries to compete against as they’re all after the same shelf space and taps. The BC brewers are only going to get better and better and it’s crucial that he only import truly great breweries, not mediocre ones.
I, for one, love Adam’s portfolio. You can tell he’s passionate about beer, has high standards and loves the breweries he represents. He’s professional, but casual, and is a guy you’d want to hang out with – and obviously, have a beer. His latest brewery, Freigeist, is new to me but knowing that it’s Adam’s brand, I have no qualms about buying it. I respect his opinion and encourage you to check out his brands and prepare to have some happy taste buds.