Shelton Brothers Importers to Open New Oregon Beer Distributor

Shelton Brothers glass

(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 summer Fall.”

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_Bros_Logo

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

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

Discussion

  • Some beer guy
    Some beer guy
    Mon Mar 14, 2016 5:33 PM

    The Sheltons are full of shit. There’s an old saying that goes, “You run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole; you run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.” After burning through 4 distributors in 15 years it makes you wonder who the asshole is in this situation. He claims he’s fighting to “change the system”, but the only thing he’s fighting for is to cut a local company out of the equation and line their pockets with more money while filling the local market with out of code beer.

    Also, you should at least ask for a counter argument from Point Blank before you post this shitty smear campaign from Dan. Ask about how brands like Cantillon and Anchorage were held hostage because Point Blank wouldn’t buy pallets of out-dated English Christmas beers.

    Lastly, anyone who thinks Shelton is going to “cut out the middle man and lower the prices” is delusional. They’ve already seen what prices the local market will bear, and they know that the good stuff will sell out quickly at current prices, so why the hell would they lower them?

    The only difference under this new arrangement will be that their strong arm tactics will get pushed onto the retailers, like “If you want to get a case of Cantillon you have to purchase 5 cases of Bluebird Bitter or some other out of code beer we need to move.”

    • Samurai Artist
      Samurai Artist
      Tue Mar 15, 2016 12:37 AM

      I think it’s a huge leap to say its a Point Blank smear campaign, Dan Shelton never mentioned Point Blank by name and only referred to Oregon distribution once and in that comment said nothing negative about their most recent.

      I would love to have Point Blank weigh in if they want to but this article was about Shelton starting a distributor and how they think things should be done. Agree or disagree is fine. I wouldnt take a newsletter from Belmont Station and then call John’s Market to get their comment on it.

      • Samurai Artist
        Samurai Artist
        Tue Mar 15, 2016 4:23 AM

        Although I stand by my previous comment on this not being a smear campaign, after dealing with numerous phone calls and emails with Dan Shelton I have to agree with you about his character…

      • Miriam Field
        Miriam Field
        Sun Dec 11, 2016 10:49 PM

        Hello,
        I recently was given your name by a cider bar in Long Beach. We live in Las Vegas and would like to find quality cider distribution. Can you guide me to who to talk with?