(UPDATED Monday late afternoon: Some adjustments have been made regarding the three-tier system to be more accurate. Please disregard earlier version) Massachusetts-based Shelton Brothers, known for bringing world famous breweries like Cantillon, Mikkeller, and Fantome into the United States, is planning to open its own Oregon distributor in the next few months. In addition to European brands, Shelton Brothers also brings such American artisanal brands as Prairie Artisan Ales and Anchorage Brewing across the country, but not direct to retail. The new Portland-based distributor will also offer distribution services to Oregon breweries and is making some bold promises to Oregon brewers.
Importers like Shelton Brothers and Merchant Du Vin work through local distributors to handle the sales and delivery of the beers to the retailer. We got a hold of co-founder/owner Dan Shelton, who explained what’s going on.
“Shelton Brothers has been distributing beer (mostly) and hard cider from small, artisanal breweries and cider-makers working in the U.S. and abroad for almost twenty years. In most of that time we’ve relied upon locally-licensed sub-distributors in as many as 45 U.S. states to work with us to get our suppliers’ wares out to retailers and consumers.”
Shelton Brothers has been exploring a new distribution model in some markets by not partnering with regional distributors but doing it themselves. Shelton Brothers will be able to become middlemen in this situation without adding another layer. If you’re a beer geek or familiar with the local imports, you probably know that it’s damn near impossible to get some of the brands Shelton represents, like Cantillon and Fantome, while some you can get but rarely show up, like Anchorage Brewing and Jolly Pumpkin. Why is it a lot easier to find some of these beers? Dan Shelton explains:
“Some of those sub-distributors have in fact worked with us, and others have not. It’s been an uneven and frustrating experience, to say the least. In the last few years we’ve just pulled the brands we offer out of a lot of states rather than continue to deal with difficult distributors–leading some consumers to conclude, unfortunately and incorrectly, that we don’t care about them and have abandoned them. We stopped selling beer, reluctantly, to our Oregon distributor, last
Shelton Brothers has been selling beer to Oregon distributors since the late 1990s, going through four different distributors over that time. The company has recently been in a legal battle to separate from its current Portland distributor. Dan Shelton is a lawyer and has a great understanding of the laws and a willingness to fight to change the system. Shelton Brothers has been experimenting with the self-distribution model in other markets, but sees Oregon as a key testing ground. “We already have our own distribution operations in a few eastern states, and we think of Oregon as the first step toward taking a progressive self-distribution model across the country. We’ll start by selling the beers we’ve been selling around the country for years now, but we’re hoping that other like-minded small brewers in Oregon and other places will join us.”
Shelton Brothers Oregon, will not just handle the distribution of its imported brands, but will also seek to sign new Oregon breweries. This could be a very attractive model to small breweries, especially Belgian-style and farmhouse breweries because of the great Shelton portfolio and the company’s understanding of how to sell and talk about these types of beers. Even further, Dan is going to make some unprecedented moves.
“We’re going to stick to a few basic principles that should resonate with anyone who’s been burned by the current system of beer distribution before. Most importantly, we will be marking up the beer to retailers enough to cover the actual costs of distribution — including good salaries for the people who will be selling and delivering beer — but not much more than that. A distributor should be able to make a living, but doesn’t need to make a killing. The other big thing is that we don’t believe in locking in a brewery with a written agreement that requires a big pay-off to the distributor if things aren’t working out and the brewery wants to make a switch. Breweries, not distributors, created and built the value of their own brands, and they shouldn’t have to buy back so-called “distribution rights” that they allowed the distributor to use for nothing. Shockingly, this is not the way beer distribution usually works right now, and it’s not fair. We intend to do it differently — within the restrictions of the current distribution laws, of course,” said Dan Shelton.
Shelton Brothers Oregon has rented cold storage space at the southeast Wine Storage space, is purchasing delivery vehicles and preparing for their Oregon Liquor Control License application to be approved. That approval is likely to happen in the next 2 months, maybe sooner. For now you can check out their still in construction new website at http://sheltonbrothersoregon.com