Eric Ottaway, General Manager and Co-owner of Brooklyn Brewery

Last Call by | Mar 2013 | Issue #74

Eric Ottaway visits the site in Sweden. | Photo courtesy

The scope of “local” may be shrinking, but apparently no one told Brooklyn Brewery. The four owners of the 11th-largest craft brewery in the country, according to the Brewers Association, are taking their operation overseas to Sweden, where they plan to open a waterfront bar and brewery with a 250-person capacity by 2014. Brewmaster Garrett Oliver’s flair for hopping and barrel aging will be tempered by the Swedes’ taste for the traditional … but not without sneaking some Swedish spices, berries and liquors in there. As co-owner Eric Ottaway says, “The fun we can have is almost limitless.”

Why did you guys decide to go overseas rather than expanding stateside?
Based on our current US geographic reach, which is primarily focused on the East Coast, we are well served by the two breweries where we brew in the US. … We are not planning any major geographic expansions in the US in the foreseeable future, and we don’t know if we’ll ever go to the West Coast. You never say never, but for now, it’s not on the radar screen. Sweden, on the other hand, is our second biggest market after New York City, by a long ways. Doing a project in Sweden fits our strategy of focusing our resources on going deeper, not wider. Besides, we love Sweden, and the incredible beer and food community that exists there.

What do you predict the biggest challenges will be?
Deciding what not to do. We have so many ideas bursting out of our heads that we’re going have to be careful to keep focused on the core mission here.

What do you think this partnership says about the role beer can play, or is playing, in relations between countries and cultures?
I think beer, and craft beer in particular, has become a great means of cultural exchange across the world. Just about wherever you go, you’ll find craft brewers … We may all speak different languages and have grown up in different cultures, but we all share a common bond in our passion for exploring flavor. Brewers are also by nature very inquisitive, and it’s natural for craft brewers to look for inspiration in the vast world of flavor that exists around the globe.

What about the Swedish beer tradition is new or different from America’s?
Sweden, like most countries, went through a period of mass industrialization of its beer culture. However, American-style light beer never caught on in Sweden, so the beer that most people drink is already much more full flavored than those commonly drunk in the US, and adjuncts are far less commonly used. As a result, the starting point when it comes to flavor for most people is already much higher than it was in the US before craft beer came onto the scene. I think that contributes to the vibrant beer culture that exists in Sweden today, and the relatively easy acceptance of the stronger flavors in beer that craft brewers are developing.

What does the Swedish beer market look like? 
Craft beer is growing at a steady pace there, and is avoiding some of the irrational exuberance that occurred in places like Denmark and currently in Italy. The state liquor monopoly, the Systembolaget, that sells all alcohol over 3.5-percent ABV, has its good and bad sides. On the positive side, they have an incredible selection of beer from all over the world, and they keep an orderly market. Their beer buyers travel the world looking for new styles and countries to include in their assortment. On the negative side, it can be difficult to get into the system sometimes. We’re also seeing the on-premise market really opening up to craft beers, even outside of the focused craft beer accounts.