Nov 16, 2019
When we think of beer from north of the American border, classic names like Molson or Labatt may easily come to mind. But as in the U.S., there has been a long shift taking place in the Canadian beer scene. Even though the entire country has roughly the same number of breweries as the state of California, there's a burgeoning community driving an industry to crank out new flavors and styles inspired by what's taken place in the U.S.
In today's episode we're talking with someone who's watched this change with great interest. Mike Willis runs West Craft Specialty Imports, which brings a variety of beverages into British Columbia. His portfolio—focused almost entirely on barrel-aged beers and other releases in the sour or tart wheelhouse—creates a unique situation for West Craft. At a time when those types of beers may seem a bit intimidating or odd for BC beer drinkers, he's leaning in hard, hoping the market is just on the cusp of opening up.
It's a novel business strategy in terms of getting ahead of the game, but the intent isn't new. Mike is used to taking risks. He organized Vancouver’s Hopwired Festival, based off Good Beer Hunting's own Uppers & Downers, which brings together coffee and beer. There's also his Fruit Beer Fest and Wild Night Out, the latter of which showcases world-renowned producers like Cantillon, Hill Farmstead, and more.
The start of this conversation hits on all of these elements, from determining a market in advance of consumers and pushing discovery of funky beers to the exciting combination of beer and coffee. The second half of our chat was particularly telling, in terms of digging into what Willis wants to accomplish in the future.
After talking about the challenges of selling beer, we get to the core of what he's trying to do: foster community and forge relationships in a way that brings him happiness. It's a bit of a cliché—talking about how beer brings people together—but as you'll hear, there is a deep personal connection running underneath everything Willis does. This isn't just moving product—it's finding meaning. Let's grab our passports and head to Vancouver.
This is Mike Willis of West Craft Specialty Imports. Listen in.