The Business of Craft Beer: A first person account

Last week we were fortunate enough to get tickets to the annual “Business of Craft Beer” event in Vancouver. This is the second year that we’ve attended this event and, mirroring the industry, it’s grown significantly. Compared to last year this was less about celebrating the industry and more focused on the business aspects, and realities of today’s craft beer market place. The number of merchants displaying their products had increased, while the number of local breweries sharing their product drastically decreased. Not ideal for the beer nerds, but since this is a business event it’s good to see that shift in floor space. The number of panels had also grown drastically from two to six. These panels ranged from talks about supply chains, legal and accounting, accounting for growth, and dealing with Provincial Liquor Distribution Board. All and all a well put together event.

Learning is hard!
Learning is hard!

So what did we get out of it? Information. Lots and lots of information. We’re talking “I probably should have brought my laptop” amounts of information. The thing that we’ve quickly learned about starting a craft brewery is that as much as the industry in BC is growing like crazy, the in depth answers to important questions are still not that easy to come by. There are stacks of great books to read, but so far some of the most important questions have been answered by brewers working in the industry. Luckily the panels were full of successful brewers who were more then happy to talk about their own struggles with opening their breweries and offering great advice along the way.

The highlight of the entire event though was definitely the final panel which consisted of Matt Phillips (Phillips Brewing), Gary Lohin (Central City Brewing), Paul Hadfield (Spinnakers), and John Mitchell (craft beer legend). While all of these pioneers had great stories and advice to share, John Mitchell definitely stole the show. If you’re not familiar with who John Mitchell is, then a quick google search on Horseshoe Bay Brewing will tell you all you need to know. The long and short of it is that he’s widely credited for bringing the craft beer experience to, not just BC, but Canada and the northern states as well. He’s now 85 years young, has great stories to tell, doesn’t mind giving an honest opinion, and carries a thermometer in his front pocket to make sure his beer is a perfect 50 degrees Fahrenheit before he takes a sip. Basically he’s awesome, and when he started talking Joe Wiebe (the MC for the panel) did the right thing by putting the microphone down and waiting until he was done. Did we have any notes from this panel? Nope. Did we care? Nope! This was more of a “sit back and enjoy” type of experience and it was glorious. That, and the free caramel popcorn waiting for us outside, was the perfect way to end the day.

Would we recommend going next year? If you’re looking to start a brewery or just interested in getting into the industry, then absolutely. It’s becoming a great event and has made some great strides over last year. So what’s next for us? Vancouver Craft Beer Week. Stay tuned!



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