Brewery tour operator cashes in on microbrewery sales surge

Tourism operators thirsty to cash in on Vancouver’s burgeoning microbrewery sector have started to see success.

Vancouver Brewery Tours owner Ryan Mackey

Tourism operators thirsty to cash in on Vancouver’s burgeoning microbrewery sector have started to see success.

The 14-month-old Vancouver Brewery Tours is doing triple the number of tours this summer as it did last summer, owner Ryan Mackey told Business in Vancouver.

Helping his business is the spike in interest in microbrewing.

BIV reported earlier this month that sales for breweries that produce less than 1.5 million litres annually saw sales rise 43.4% in the year that ended June 30.

Meanwhile, sales for big domestic brewers, which produce more than 16 million litres of beer annually, dropped for the sixth consecutive year.

“We’re Vancouver’s first and only company that focuses on craft brewery tours,” Mackey said.

Mackey has struck partnerships with nine microbreweries so far.

His three-hour tours take a maximum of 15 people at a time to three separate craft breweries for a bit of education and sampling.

A year ago, staff at those breweries would take Mackey’s customers through the brewery and explain operations. Increasingly, Mackey conducts the tours himself.

“I was listening and learning how to sell the breweries and mention key points that they want discussed,” he said. “Once I got that down, my motto was, ‘You go run your business, I can do the tour.’ The trust is there. We come in. We do the tour. We do the full walk-around.”

Brewery operators welcome the tours because it helps sales.

“We were always fascinated by the idea that he was going to do most of the legwork in terms of bringing people to our operation,” said North Vancouver-based Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers president Shae de Jaray. “It helps us showcase what we do. It’s really a no-brainer because it works really, really well.”

De Jaray said that if his brewery is not really busy with other visitors in its tasting room, his employees make time to engage with the tour participants.

Vancouver Brewery Tours conducts four public tours each week – once daily Thursdays through Sundays. Mackey also usually runs two private tours, which each have a capacity of 12, at various times during the week.

Those private tours are often done for corporate team-building or client appreciation.

“We don’t run a booze cruise or a party bus,” Mackey said. “Education is a big part of the tour, especially at the first stop. On the next stops the focus is more on the story of the breweries and the people.”