Lately I have been thinking about all the ‘other’ aspects of the craft beer industry; namely, the many players that contribute to the growth and expansion of this wonderful business outside the brewers and the consumers. Is a job in the craft beer field like a 9 to 5 with your best drinking mates? Do beer geeks wander around in white lab coats muttering about high alpha acid hops? Are covert beer spies travelling to exotic overseas breweries trying to pin down the next big thing? With this is mind, and my obvious need to connect with the reality of the situation, I got in touch with Leo Nomoto from Beer Thirst to answer a few questions about the process of importing craft beer into the province and the type of work the Beer Thirst guys actually do.
Can you tell me a little bit about the process of importing craft beers into BC?
I’m sure every distributor has their own reasons on why they approach certain breweries, but at Beerthirst, we’re all pretty much beer geeks, so for the most part we import the beers that we want to have available and drink ourselves in BC. It’s actually how this company started. Norm lived in Portland and Hanan lived in San Francisco, and when they moved back to Vancouver, they couldn’t find the beers that they enjoyed. So they brought it in themselves. It started as a hobby and turned into a business.
How do you decide on craft beers to import?
Luckily we work in an industry where the consumers support the product because they enjoy it rather than being brainwashed by commercials and product placement into buying the product. So we feel very lucky that we can bring in certain beers just for the simple reason that we like it or other people will like it.
We’re always looking for something new to bring in. So sometimes we might just bring in certain breweries on a smaller scale because we want the consumers to have a wide variety of beers to choose from. We’ve also had breweries approach us too.
Once you have decided on a beer or line-up of beers to bring in, how is the brewery approached?
So whether we approach the brewery or they approach us, one way or the other we establish a relationship, and we exchange documents, agreements and signatures. Then we go through the liquor board and bring in their beers.
What are the costs of importing craft beer?
It’s definitely not cheap and you have to be willing to take a risk to bring in these beers.
Can you stock product in both BC Liquor Stores and privately run liquor stores?
As far as the BC Liquor Store goes, we decided not to have too much product listed by them. We support the private liquor stores and what they do for the craft beer community. Private liquor stores can’t compete with the prices that BC liquor stores could offer our beers for, so we decided to only have a few beers listed at government stores.
What is the relationship between the different import buisnesses in the province?
The relationship between different importers [is] great. Well, it seems that way to us at least. Of course it’s a business and we’re competing against each other technically, but it’s a friendly competition. We approach the same breweries constantly. But the great thing about the craft beer industry is that we’re not a bunch of giants trying to crush each other to try and take over the industry. I can’t speak for everyone else, but the way Beerthirst looks at it is that the more the craft beer industry grows, the more opportunity there is for everyone. The more craft beer becomes popular with the consumers in Vancouver, the more restaurants, pubs, and liquor stores are going to be on board with craft beer. The more that happens, the more shelf space and draft lines open up for an imported beer or a local beer. It’s more job opportunities for people who are passionate about craft beer as well. So we all get along. After the Belgian showcase ended at Biercraft during this year’s Vancouver Craft Beer Week, we enjoyed a bunch of beer with Dave from Horizon and Adam and Curtis from Rain City Brands. We’ve even helped each other during VCBW. We’re not Molson and Labbatts. We’re not trying to take over the industry.
How does hosting beer dinners and participating in events assist the import side of things?
We get involved with beer dinners and events to get involved with the consumers, to educate them, or to simply show them what we have that’s available. We want people to understand the beauty of food and beer and how there’s a beer for any dish you put on the table. And when we do events, they’re all different so it’s all about pouring what we think that crowd will like. If we didn’t believe in the products our breweries produced, we wouldn’t bring them in. So there’s really no need for us to “test” anything. Not everyone is going to like every single thing we bring in, but our goal is to have everyone give it a try and know about it. Beer dinners and events are also an excuse for us to have fun.
What kind of roles do employees take on working for Beerthirst?
Being that we’re a small company, we all wear different hats. We have the owner, a president, operations manager, marketing manager, and a brands manager. We also have 3 sales associates, an event coordinator, and someone who does tastings.
What is the work environment like?
We absolutely hate each other and can’t stand being in the same office with each other, but we love our job. And yes, you can definitely live off this job.
Finally, what is your ‘holy grail’ brewer to get on board?
There’s too many to name but they’re probably the same beers you or any other craft beer aficionado would like to see here in Vancouver.
*Thank you so much to Leo for sharing his time and knowledge.