The International Spread of US Craft Beers – Taking Taste Abroad

The US craft beer segment has exploded in the last few years. Evidence of this proliferation is everywhere, from liquor stores to grocery stores, brewpubs, bars and the number of new breweries going up all over the place. However, one facet of this explosion might have passed you by – the number of craft beers being sent overseas to other countries. This marks a huge shift in the beer industry, as most countries haven’t been particularly interested in most mainstream American beers (Bud, Busch and the like are exported, just on a rather limited basis in comparison to the beers our country brings in).

However, with the rise of better beer making in the nation, more and more countries have expressed an interest in having US products exported to them. In addition, a new project masterminded by the US Department of Commerce is making it easier for craft brewers to make inroads into overseas markets. What’s going on here?

A Look at the US Department of Commerce Program

While there’s a dearth of information available on line about the US Department of Commerce’s pilot program, there’s a good bit of physical evidence that it’s at least debuting to considerable support both here at home and abroad. For instance, U-T San Diego featured a story concerning several different breweries (Aztec Brewing, Iron Fist and Lost Abbey) selected to be part of the pilot program who had their brews shipped overseas to Hong Kong. According to U-T San Diego, “each brewer shipped one pallet – roughly 60-70 cases, with about 12 bottles in each case”. While that sounds like a small amount, even those numbers can mean big things if the international reception is good. So far, the pilot program has led to talks between US craft breweries and export companies (dealing with distribution in Asian countries like Japan, Singapore and the Philippines).

Other Beers Making the International Leap

Of course, there are plenty of other craft brewers who are taking on the international distribution challenge but not involved with the project mentioned above. For instance, Founders Brewing Co. out of Grand Rapids, Michigan inked a deal in early 2013 to start distributing their brews in Canada (their Centennial IPA, which is produced all year long). They’re also broadening their US distribution with talks underway to expand into Maryland, Texas and Florida. The company already covers most of the eastern states, as well as several Midwest states.

The Boston Beer Company might just be the most visible craft brewery in the US, as well as outside our borders. The birthplace of Sam Adams, Boston Beer has been shipping their products internationally for quite some time, and with considerable effect on their bottom line. According to the financial stats they released in early 2013, exports to other nations played a larger role in the company’s profitability than in previous years.

Alternative Ways to Snag International Drinkers

While a growing number of craft beers are shipping overseas, some are taking a different tack in gaining a following among international beer lovers. One way they’re doing this is by distributing to some rather forward-thinking hotel chains. 

One of the hotel chains getting in on the act is Cambria Suites. Every single location now has to have two craft beers available at the bar (in bottles, not necessarily on tap). That’s a significant move on the part of the chain, but there’s more in this industry. The Four Points by Sheraton located at LAX boasts 10 craft beers at the bar served on tap, but they also offer more than 100 different varieties in bottled form. Considering the number of international travelers going through LAX every year and the number who regularly stay at the Four Points, this constitutes an immense chance to boost visibility for craft brewers (the beer is served at Brewster’s, inside the hotel).

What’s more – some of these hotels are taking big beer out of the picture. For instance, Brewster’s serves mainstream beer, but only by special request. Budweiser and its ilk are not on the beer menu. It’s a brave new world, indeed.

Another way that US craft beers are garnering international attention is by attending global beer festivals and celebrations. The Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular sees more than 10,000 attendees every year (2012 saw 11,000+), and while there are breweries from all over Australia, New Zealand and Asia, American craft beer has a presence here as well. Celebrations and beer festivals like this are springing up all around the world, and American breweries are hitting them in record numbers.

The Future for American Craft Beer

The surge of popularity for US craft beers isn’t a homegrown thing only. While these brewers certainly enjoy immense support on the home front, the international scene is growing by leaps and bounds. The 2009 export figures alone showed a 7-year growth spike for US craft beers, and that trend hasn’t stopped. Currently, the hottest markets for US brews are Sweden, the UK and Canada, but there are others growing almost as quickly. Australians seem to have a love affair with American craft beer, and new inroads are being made into Asian countries, as well as other European countries too. 

As more and more craft breweries find success here in the States, they are able to broaden their reach and start looking at additional markets. That makes it your duty as a craft beer lover to support those breweries you love most – buy their products, share them with friends and tell others. The more support these small breweries are able to garner here in the US, the faster they’ll be able to find lasting success and really start showing the world that Americans have better tastes than the Big Beer companies they’ve come to know. It really comes down to you, the American beer lover, and how much you’re willing to help fledgling craft breweries succeed.

Posted on April 1, 2013 and filed under The Business of Beer, 2013.