Beau's lands exclusive beer deal with Porter

Beau's Lug Tread
Beau's Lug Tread beer will soon be served to passengers on Porter flights. Photo courtesy Porter Airlines

After seeing half its revenue wiped out by the pandemic, Beau’s Brewing Co. has tapped a new corporate partner as it tries to lift itself out of the doldrums.

The Vankleek Hill craft brewery has signed on as the exclusive beer provider for Toronto-based Porter Airlines. Terms of the contract were not released.

Beau’s Lug Tread ale will headline a rotating selection of the brewer’s products that will now be offered as part of the airline’s complimentary in-flight beverage service. 

“We’ve never really done anything quite like this before,” Beau’s co-founder and CEO Steve Beauchesne said. “We’ve worked with lots of great partners over the years, but getting beers in planes is kind of a next-level thing for us.”

In 2019, Porter served 250,000 cans of beer from the previous supplier, Toronto’s Ace Hill brewery. While Beauchesne said it might take a while for volumes to hit that level as the airline industry recovers from the effects of COVID-19, he’s hoping the deal will help put his business on the map with beer lovers beyond its traditional customer base of eastern Ontario.

“We know that this is going to get our beer into lots of people’s hands,” he said. “That volume alone is going to be big, but then on top, what we’re hoping is that a lot of people who’ve never heard of Beau’s before also get to try it. There’s still a lot of people in Toronto, in Halifax and (places) like that that still need to get introduced to our beer. This is a great way for us to do it.”

Founded in 2006, Beau’s has become a mainstay of the eastern Ontario craft beer scene thanks to Lug Tread and other styles such as its Wag the Wolf IPA and Kissmeyer Nordic Pale Ale.

Bar sales disappeared

But Beauchesne said widespread business shutdowns aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 have wreaked havoc with the brewing industry. Half of Beau’s $30 million in annual sales before the pandemic came from bars and restaurants, and his brewery saw those revenues “disappear overnight.”

Beau’s tried to recoup some of the lost sales by introducing new product lines such as a hand sanitizer it produced in partnership with Dunrobin Distillery. 

While the sanitizer sales helped, the brewery still had to lay off 30 of its 100 employees as it struggled to make ends meet. 

“We made the best of the situation, but it’s been really tough, not just financially, but emotionally,” Beauchesne said. “It was pretty stressful and incredibly challenging.”

Since landing the deal with Porter, Beau’s has started hiring again, bringing on about half a dozen new employees as it prepares to ramp up production. 

“We’re growing now after 18 months of contracting,” Beauchesne said. “It’s much more fun.”

Still, the veteran entrepreneur says he’s not taking anything for granted with COVID case loads rising again as the delta variant takes hold.

“We’re seeing things improve, but we’re not through it yet,” he noted. “We’re hoping that this (contract) is a huge boost for us, but we’re also being prudent and cautious in terms of our projections as well.”

Porter operates flights to nearly two dozen cities in Canada and the U.S. The airline, which currently has a fleet of 29 Q400 turboprops, announced last month it plans to launch jet service to Canada, the U.S. and the Caribbean.

Porter has been grounded for more than a year due to the pandemic and is scheduled to resume service early next month.