Three Threads

Three Threads by | Sep 2009 | Issue #32

Where do you see the future potential growth for craft beer imports within the US market over the next few years?

Lanny Hoff
Eastern sales director, Artisanal Imports, Inc.

I view smaller markets (i.e., not Chicago, LA or New York) as being important areas of growth for us in the years to come. It’s always been important to work hard to get a toehold in big cities, but as good beer spreads, it becomes easier to imagine real growth coming from less densely populated cities and states. Domestic craft beers are opening the minds of consumers and, once opened, they do not close again. This is just as true in Charlotte, [N.C.,] as Chicago, and if we are there with good imports and spend a little time educating people, it creates opportunities. I believe that good beer—regardless of its origin—begets more good beer, and that imported craft beer will continue to play a significant role in the American beer scene and will enjoy increased sales alongside its domestic brethren in every nook and cranny of the marketplace.

Joe Lipa
National sales manager, Merchant Du Vin Corp.

I think the best is yet to come for specialty imports because American palates are changing at a rate of speed that I have never seen. This has happened due to the wide variety of beers now being offered in restaurants and stores. Another important dynamic that ensures long-term growth is that beer has finally connected to food, thus gaining similar respect as wine. Merchant du Vin conducted beer dinners and food pairings 30 years ago. People thought we were out of our minds. My, have things changed. Also, today’s beer drinkers are choosing beers vertically and folklore breweries like Samuel Smith, Ayinger, Orval Trappist and Lindemans are benefiting. The specialty import trade winds will be are at our backs for many years to come.

Matthias Neidhart
President, B.United International Inc.

We are seeing good news and bad news. I will not speculate on macro factors such as inflation, exchange rates, increase in beer taxes, etc.

Bad news: More and more breweries from abroad will enter the US market to compensate for lack of growth in their respective home markets. Many of these breweries define themselves as “craft or specialty brew” simply because they are brewed abroad. They will further clog up the entire distribution and retail shelf system. More importers will open shop; more of everything, but with less quality. In addition, the rapid pace of international brewing consolidation will keep marginalizing/destroying historic artisanal brews—all sad news.

Good news: More pockets of true artisanal brewing will open up abroad both in countries not known for “artisanal brewing,” such as Austria, Spain and Chile, and “traditional brewing” countries, such as Germany and England.

Such brewmasters will push new brews of unheard flavors/aroma complexity. New networks of brewmasters will develop “hybrid brews,” such as Birra del Borgo’s Duchessic from Italy blended with 1-year-old Lambic from Cantillon Brewery in Belgium. Even more exciting, though, are new innovations that completely annihilate the separation between wine, beer and spirits, such as Uerige Stickum, which is Uerige Sticke distilled to 65-percent ABV and then matured in cognac barrels for over 18 months. Lastly, the concepts of superb quality—think “bad kegs”—and environmental concerns will push the most ambitious importers to design completely new ways of doing business, all in the name of providing the distinguished US consumer with the “highest quality” of extraordinary artisanal products brewed abroad.