You’ve probably noticed by now that beers from brewers like Dieu Du Ciel, Fantome and Nøgne Ø have been absent from store shelves in Chicago for a while now — months in fact.
That’s because Shelton Brothers, the east coast importer behind those brands and dozens of others, stopped sending beer to their Chicago distributor Lakeshore Beverage.
We’ve been patiently watching this from a distance, working to get something — anything — on the record. Shelton Brothers wouldn’t respond to our request for comment. We traded emails and phone calls with Lakeshore Beverage CEO J.R. Hand but couldn’t get much on the record. We even hit up a few retailers, with limited success.
When we talked to Hand he expected a resolution soon — that Shelton Brothers would land with a new distributor and their beer would return to store shelves. That was last month and there’s still no Shelton Brothers beers in Chicago.
Shelton Brothers sudden departure from the market leaves a lot of questions — most of which can only be answered by someone at Shelton Brothers. And they’re not talking.
But here is what we do know. When Lakeshore Beverage, formerly River North and City Beverage, became official Shelton Brother stopped sending beer to the newly formed distributor. They could have exercised an “out” clause allowing them to move to a new distributor when the sale of River North and City Beverage’s were completed — but they didn’t.
This isn’t the first time a spat with a wholesaler has caused Shelton Brothers to pull up stakes from a market. They did so in Missouri in 2010 and in Indiana in 2011. It took years for Shelton Brothers to return to Missouri but just a few months for them to get back into Indiana. There’s no telling how long it will be before they return to Chicago.
Jolly Pumpkin and their renowned sours, however, are still on store shelves in Chicago because they opted to work directly with Lakeshore Beverage, according to Hand.
Brewer-distributor disputes aren’t new to Chicago craft beer drinkers. In 2006 Larry Bell pulled his beer from the market due to concerns with his assigned distributor. The difference between that instance and this Shelton Brothers fiasco is we know why Larry Bell pulled his beers from Chicago. But we don’t know why Shelton Brothers did.