American-made craft beer is entering its heyday in America – and with a little help and a little time, dozens of other countries might be buying that same craft beer, too.
The Brewers Association, which is in Washington this week for American Craft Beer Week, tells Whispers that American craft beer export volumes climbed by an incredible 72 percent in 2012 over the previous year. U.S.-made craft beer – from breweries such as Boston Brewing Company, DC Brau, or New Belgium Brewing that produce fewer than 6 million barrels of beer a year – is today on store shelves in countries like Sweden and Canada. Sweden has embraced light lager alternatives to the domestic beers from Spendrups and Carlsberg that have dominated their shelves for years, while Canada has fallen in love with America's hoppy beers.
Much of the credit can go to the Department of Agriculture, which through its Market Access Program has given the Brewers Association an average of $400,000 annually for the past four years to help get its craft beers abroad.
"What we do with that money is we try to establish a relationship," says Bob Pease, chief operating officer of the Brewers Association.
"Like in Ontario, the big beer purchasers are the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. So we have their category manager ... come and speak to our members. That way we're able to educate her, she sees our excitement and then she tells our members: If you want to do business in Canada, here's what you got to do."
At the 2013 Craft Brewers Conference in March, a Swedish sommelier and a manager at the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch, too, talked to American brewers about how to sell their beer abroad.
Agriculture Department spokeswoman Sally Klusaritz says market access funds were also used to familiarize importers in countries including Germany, Taiwan and Australia about American craft beers, as well as sponsor beer tastings and competitions abroad, such as the Stockholm Beer Competition.
The total volume of craft beer sold outside the U.S. is still very low compared what's sold in America: 186,000 barrels are sold abroad each year, while 13 million barrels are sold at home. But the total value of craft beer abroad is $49 million – which Pease thinks is a solid return on the $1.6 million from the Department of Agriculture.
And craft beer plans to keep spreading across the world. At least four American craft brewers currently export to China, including Brooklyn Brewery and F.X. Matt Brewing Company in New York. And Arbor Brewing Company in Ann Arbor, Mich., recently opened a brewpub in Bangalore, India – 9,000 miles away.