Whatever happened to the imports?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by Reidrover, Jul 18, 2020.

  1. Reidrover

    Reidrover Poo-Bah (3,908) Jan 14, 2003 Oregon

    Being a beer freak for over 20 years in the USA, i am dismayed by the ever shrinking shelf space for the old traditional import beers.
    Sure I tink riht now is a great tome for craft beer..but i feel sad that i can no longer go to my local beer store and buy Fullers London Porter or Gouden Carolus Tripel etc..but i can get a flood of hazy IPAs from little breweries in California or Colorado for twice the price.
    Its disheartening t think new Beer Advocates wont really get the full range of the traditional beers I had ..one of my favorite places had a whole section of such beers refrigerated 5 years ago..now its the 2 bottom shelves for German/Belgian/British beers..the rest been taken by the bloody hazies or gluten free ( this is Oregon).
    I understand there is way more profit to be made in a $5 16 oz can of a no name brewery hazy than a $4.50 500 ml bottle of Andechs Dopplebock..but its so sad.
    Is this just an Oregon thing or is this everywhere?
  2. Providence

    Providence Crusader (709) Feb 24, 2010 Rhode Island

    It seems to be the same here. Sam Smith’s, Fullers, Weinstephaner, etc are all breweries that were once prominently displayed at bottle shops around here. Now, for the most part, they are off to the side.
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  3. lackenhauser

    lackenhauser Poo-Bah (2,535) Dec 10, 2002 Maryland
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    I would assume it is most places. Two things-a store with a smaller but average import section is down to Corona, Guinness and Pilsner Urquell. A store with a huge import section-one I can think of divided by country or regions-obviously suffers as the shelves have not been maintained or cared for, possibly not even glanced at for weeks to months. i end up walking right past the stuff between the dates and selection. It is indeed sad.
  4. bubseymour

    bubseymour Poo-Bah (3,092) Oct 30, 2010 Maryland
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    I had a Weihenstephaner Pilsner last night actually. Tasted better than majority of US attempts at the style. Like US makers, would love to see contraction on store shelves so what is there is fresher and the best quality ones. With that said most European beers have a pretty high baseline for quality and price is cheaper, especially German beers. Freshness is the risk. Still overall they are a safer bet if you are trying new beers. Belgian beers usually have the highest bar (but also the costliest), Germans are pretty solid with a few misses (usually the discount German lagers aren't that good). English beers are the most hit or miss IMO. For the milds/bitters/browns etc, the US tends to not get imported the best options. Fullers and a few others are exceptions, but alot of mediocre options are sent here.
  5. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (2,833) May 30, 2005 Michigan

    I finally realized this week that the import section is about half of what it used to be at my favorite store. And what imports are still there are dusty, so I haven't been buying them. It kind of becomes the old adage about the chicken or the egg.....the store won't bring in any fresh imports if no one is buying them, and no one buys them because they're old.
  6. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,695) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    I have noticed at my local retailers less and less selection of German and British imports over the last decade+. When there was a larger selection of these beers more often than not they were too old/stale so I personally did not buy them. I think the issue here is simply that these beers did (and do) not sell well.

    I do find a good selection of Belgian beers, especially Trappist/Abbey style ales.

    I doubt that this was intended here but there are a lot of imported Mexican beers available for sale.

  7. bsp77

    bsp77 Poo-Bah (2,332) Apr 27, 2008 Minnesota

    Yeah, it sucks. I feel that certain stores still have a good selection of German and Belgian beers (check the dates on the German), but the English selection has been decimated other than some Samuel Smith and Fullers. And to make matters worse, craft brewers are shying away from Elnglish style ales.
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  8. Piparskeggr

    Piparskeggr Initiate (88) Sep 14, 2011 Maryland

    Fortunately, my local bottle shop has a good assortment of English ales from Best Bitters to Porter. I have Sam Smith's, Fuller's and Wychwood in the fridge as I type.

    I think it helps that we live near a large US Navy base. Many folks in the area were stationed in Europe, so the demand for the imports drives shelf space.
  9. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,695) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    In one sentence that is the answer. As I posted above I stopped purchasing German & English imports because they were (are) too old/stale.

  10. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (2,093) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
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    Imports have grown immensely during the "Craft Era" (say, "1980 - Today"). In 1980, imported brands made up a bit under 3% of the US beer market (Beer Institute's Beer Almanac), today it's 19% (Brewers Association) - making it larger than the "Craft" share. From 4.6 Million barrels to 36 Million barrels.

    The Top Ten of each period shows the biggest change.
    Today, 2/3's of all imported beer in the US comes from Mexico. In 1980, that figure was around 7%.

    Some might say of that period - "Gee, but what happened to the market share of the other major AAL national brewers like Stroh, Schlitz, Heileman and Pabst?" In some ways, it was taken over by Mexican AAL's which sold at twice the price. Hell, lots of pre-craft era US brewers could have survived if they could have doubled their shelf price.

    * Yeah, _I_ know Foster's at #10 is not an imported beer, but brewed domestically for the US market by Molson Coors. Aim your criticism at Source: Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Chicago. :grin:
  11. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (2,833) May 30, 2005 Michigan

    I suppose the Mexican beers growth is not very surprising, but I just never put those beers into the import category in my brain. NAFTA must have been very lucrative for those brands to grow like that, although in reality people like and buy those beers as the real reason.
  12. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,695) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    That is a factual statement. There is indeed a large customer base for beers like Corona, etc. Why folks are willing to pay a premium price for a Mexican brewed AAL beer instead of buying a 30-pack of Hamm's for less than 15 bucks doesn't make a lot of sense to me. The power of "Find your beach"?

  13. puboflyons

    puboflyons Poo-Bah (5,552) Jul 26, 2008 New Hampshire

    Certainly., this chart shows that imports are still available but most of these listed are the AAL's. I'm not being critical about that because I buy them from time to time (just bought some Labatt the other day). If I'm reading this forum thread correctly, I think the focus is on finding the Abbey/Trappist ales, the ESB's, the Marzens, Baltic Porters, and other specialty imported beers.
  14. Reidrover

    Reidrover Poo-Bah (3,908) Jan 14, 2003 Oregon

    I guess they just do not sell well as alluded to in posts above. Older craft beer drinkers like myself are drinking less or not at all for health reasons..so the beer we like dnt get bought in quantity.
    The world moves on!
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  15. thesherrybomber

    thesherrybomber Devotee (417) Jun 13, 2017 California
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    For me, nationalism
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  16. Reidrover

    Reidrover Poo-Bah (3,908) Jan 14, 2003 Oregon

    I am actually quite lucky here in Salem OR, as 2 local breweries still do British and German styles probably for us old farts among the hazies.
    One even has cask. But still it would be nice to get the originals
  17. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (2,093) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
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    The way I understand it, there hasn't been tariffs on imported beer in the US since the 1930s, so NAFTA would have little to do with it (especially given that the growth of Corona, in particular, when it shot to the #2 Import position, happened in the 1980s, pre-NAFTA).

    Yeah, the point is those sorts of beers were always a tiny percentage of imported beer market in the US - the stats for Belgium, for instance, weren't even listed in industry publications, but included under the catch-all "Other Europe" category, into the 1980s.

    Those 10 1980 top sellers alone accounted for 80% of all imports - a segment that has always been dominated by AALs or Euro lagers, with only a few exceptions (Bass and Newcastle from the UK and Guinness). Not hard to imagine that US brewed "Craft Beer" as a segment had a big effect on the market for all those "other" imported styles.
  18. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Poo-Bah (1,567) Mar 12, 2013 California
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    As noted above, a cycle of stale beer is hard to break out of. I remain hopeful that an increased focus on freshness will deliver us some new distribution models and that European beers will be able to benefit from.it as well. The downside is that every iteration of this improved distribution I've been able to imagine will carry a higher cost for the distributor AND require more active/educated staff, so I don't foresee it helping prices at all.

    I have a pretty well curated selection of nicer European beers available to me. Mostly sold as singles and fresher than many report. I don't buy them often though so I am not helping
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  19. ChicagoJ

    ChicagoJ Meyvn (1,227) Feb 2, 2015 Illinois

    Lowenbrau did well and likely would have made the 1980 list if it wasn't purchased by Miller in 1975, after which production moved here, the be changed and was ultimately destroyed.

    Fosters (Miller) and Bass (AB / Alec Baldwinsville) continued the trend. The top formerly brewed in Chicago Goose Island brands were also transferred to Baldwinsville, beers like Honkers Ale died, others live on in cheap 15 packs (312, IPA).

    Moosehead is the only beer I still buy from the 1980 list, I no longer purchase any on the 2019 list. I used to drink Guinness and Tecate in the 1980/90s, Guinness is OK for a one off, tried Tecate in Vegas a few years ago and it was not good.

    We are fortunate in Chicago to have Beer Temple which has fresh/reasonably fresh imports across many styles.
  20. YamBag

    YamBag Initiate (182) Feb 2, 2007 Pennsylvania

    The one thing I've noticed and like is the increase in Euro beer being shipped in blatter containers that is canned in the US. I look forward to this growing and would love to see more Euro breweries shipping half litter cans like DAB and Bitburger vs bottles.
  21. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,695) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    I am fortunate that in the Southeastern PA there are a lot (and I do mean a lot) of craft breweries producing high quality German beers (e.g., German Pilsners, Helles, etc.). No 'drop off' in quality compared to German brewed products IMO and with the important benefit of I can find these beers fresh - often within a month of the packaging date.

    There are a few that regularly produce English style beers (e.g., Bitter Ale, Oatmeal Stout, Dark Mild, ...) with a 'shout out' to Yards, Forest & Main, Hidden River,... At the Yards and Forest & Main taprooms they serve their beers on cask.

    In terms of packaged (bottles) product my personal solution is to homebrew my own English style beers. I have both a Bitter Ale and Oatmeal Stout beers available to me right now.

  22. lackenhauser

    lackenhauser Poo-Bah (2,535) Dec 10, 2002 Maryland
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    Speaking of all this anyone tried the newer Newcastle Brown? Brewed here and reformulated for the US market?
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  23. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (2,093) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
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    Yeah, the imported beer market in the US was really growing fast in the '70s, so it is hard to say if Lowenbrau would have stayed among the top brands if Miller hadn't got the US license (first as the importer, then brewed-under-license domestically) in the mid-70s. Some sources put the pre-Miller sales at around 400k bbl, so Heineken and likely the 3 Molson brands would have still outsold it. By the early-70s The Netherlands (so, mostly Heineken) had passed Germany (with its many brands) as the #1 beer exporter to the US. Heineken was in the million barrel range by the middle of the decade and accounted for 35-40% of all imports.

    In 1999, Miller lost the US license and it moved to Labatt (by then already InBev-owned), supposedly the "original" all-malt recipe and eventually it was again a German-import in the US (and owned by InBev after they bought Spaten), before and after the AB-InBev merger via AB's "Import Brands Alliance" division.
    ...but the damage was done, and ABInBev stopped exporting it to the US.

    It is perplexing that AB-InBev then turned around and did the same thing Miller did to once popular US imports like Bass Ale, Beck's and St. Pauli Girl. Well, not quite the same since they claim to have maintained the original recipes.

    AB did it for a few years starting in the late 1970s for Wurzburger, sort of in response to Miller's domestically-brewed, inauthentic recipe Lowenbrau...

    AB's "insulated barrels" were actually pretty big - 5100 gallons, so about 160 US beer barrels in size. Landed in the Port of NY/NJ and bottled just a stone's throw away at their Newark brewery.
    #23 jesskidden, Jul 18, 2020
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2020
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  24. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,695) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    I know that B. United is doing this for a number of imported beers; they can those beers at their facility in Connecticut. I have in the past purchased a few of these beers and while I enjoyed drinking those beers the prices were so high they were not repeat purchases for me. I even had one of my local Retail Beer Distributors special order some of those beers for me (e.g., Tipopils) but his minimum order is a case and while I purchased one four-pack/12 ounce cans for over $20 nobody else was willing to buy those beers and they just collected dust and went stale. After this 'incident' I did not have the heart to ask Joe to special order me any other beers.

    Do you know of anybody else besides B. United that is shipping beer in via container and canning those beers in the US? If so, what are their prices like?

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  25. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,695) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

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  26. dcotom

    dcotom Poo-Bah (2,580) Aug 4, 2014 Iowa
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    Not sure how big of an impact giving import shelf space to St. Louis-brewed Florida beers will have on the availability of German, Belgian, and UK brews. :rolling_eyes:

  27. jmdrpi

    jmdrpi Poo-Bah (7,000) Dec 11, 2008 Pennsylvania

    I think this makes a lot of sense since the Belgian beers in question do not have to be fresh to enjoy
  28. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,830) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
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    Inasmuch as the overall market share has decreased in reflection of the change in demand, you can still use that principle to your own advantage. There are bound to be stores catering to the smaller market, more niche type places; so if you know of or find such shops please support them as much as you can. The more people who do that the more they may be incentivized to maintain, or even grow, that niche.
  29. invertalon

    invertalon Devotee (488) Jan 27, 2009 Ohio

    Thankfully, Cleveland has a big european community, so I have a few import shops around me that have a huge selection. One of which, keep everything in coolers which makes a huge difference.

    The other big shops around me also carry nice selections, so it's not hard to find the goodies. Thankfully!
  30. keithmurray

    keithmurray Meyvn (1,411) Oct 7, 2009 Connecticut

    Definitely have seen a reduction in the number of English/German/Belgian imports available. English ales are limited to Sam Smith and Fullers,i havent seen brands like Belhaven, Wells in ages. The German headliners are still available (Weihenstephaner, Spaten, Hofbrau) but more obscure labels are gone. Same for the Belgians - St Bernardus, Duvel, Delerium Tremens still readily available, but other brands that used to fall in to that bucket arent seen any longer (Gouden Carolus, Karmeliet, Affligem, De Ranke)
  31. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Poo-Bah (1,567) Mar 12, 2013 California
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    Jack, I think this highlights what I mentioned above. The logistical and infrastructural (including the data aggregating infrastructure to understand what the actual demand is in different markets) resources required to consistently deliver fresh beer from another continent is much more expensive than those.typical for normal beer distribution.

    My understanding is that imports were always constrained by price until the modern craft wave created a very expensive class of domestic beers
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  32. meefmoff

    meefmoff Devotee (474) Jul 6, 2014 Massachusetts

    German and Belgian beer is in pretty good supply here, though I didn't drink much of it 5 years ago so I can't really say how things compare time wise. German beer specifically feels like it's becoming more available in terms of variety and freshness, but again I don't really trust my perception. UK beer definitely lags far behind though (minus Guinness, Murphy's and maybe Harp thanks to our Irish population).

    Boston is the closest port city to Europe so I've wondered if that plays any kind of a role in what we see here compared to other parts of the country.
  33. officerbill

    officerbill Zealot (572) Feb 9, 2019 New York
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    Over the past two years my Wegmans has reduced imports by 2/3 and my beer store by 1/2, this isn't counting Mexican, big name Canadian, or Stella.
    Wegmans reduced the number of brands they carry so the style might still be there, but you don't have a choice of brewery.
    The beer store let's bottles collect dust until they are way past the best by date, marks them way down then just doesn't reorder do the only thing left is what sells steadily.
    In both cases what were once import shelves now hold seltzer

    Amen, I enjoy several of their imports and placed three orders with them, but other than Schlenkerla I can get comparable quality at a much lower price.
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  34. MrOH

    MrOH Meyvn (1,286) Jul 5, 2010 Maryland

    Really, it all boils down to folks aren't buying enough of something for retailers to purchase something from distributors, and then distributors aren't purchasing from importers.

    I suppose that if local breweries could create a demand for a particular style, then the carryover would be for more imports. But then again, I remember when damn near every brewery came out with a Kolsch around 15yo, and I didn't see any uptick in fresh beer from Cologne then.

    Those of us that are chasing a fresh authentic version of a style that is popular overseas are very much in the minority. I'm just thankful that one of my local breweries has a cask program in place, the owners and brewers are well-traveled beer drinkers, and they try to make something to suit everyone's palate. It'd probably be hard to find a population of folks that spent significant time overseas and dealing with the local culture than the DC metro area.
  35. sportscrazed2

    sportscrazed2 Zealot (522) Mar 29, 2010 American Samoa

    Probably an Oregon thing/lack of imports right now in general/profit margins on imports aren't as high and they aren't as fresh. I think you need to live somewhere with either a decent sized population of people from the originating country or just have a store owner that knows their shit.
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  36. SFACRKnight

    SFACRKnight Poo-Bah (1,776) Jan 20, 2012 Colorado
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    The total wine that just came in to town has a great import presence on the shelves. I've been nabbing fresh ayinger and duvel single from them.
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  37. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,695) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    I wonder if after a year or so if that will still be the case. My 'local' Total Wine & More is in Claymont, DE and I personally have stopped even looking through the non-Mexican import section since in the recent past I saw nothing but old product there.

    Hopefully your store will be better in this regard.

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  38. SFACRKnight

    SFACRKnight Poo-Bah (1,776) Jan 20, 2012 Colorado
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    I've been warned by others as well. I figure if I drink the hell out of the imports I love then I solve my own problems Jack.
  39. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,695) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Yup, enjoy the moment!:slight_smile:

    Who knows what tomorrow brings!?!:confused:

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  40. TheBungyo

    TheBungyo Champion (818) Dec 1, 2004 Washington

    Back in the early 2000s if stores had a better beer selection they were almost forced to utilize a wide array of imports to line their shelves. Even here in WA where we had a larger amount of breweries (for the time) it still wasn't enough to fill an entire section. Many grocery stores would carry lots of German, Belgian, and English imports. With the arrival of a brewery for almost every neighborhood those imports have largely been pushed off the shelf because:
    A. People want to drink local.
    B. Those traditional breweries aren't producing sexy styles and largely get ignored.

    It's a damn shame. I've had some great American brewed bitters but none that I'd say compares to Timothy Taylor (which I really wish I could try on cask). As for other English beers, I haven't seen Adnams or Youngs or Felinfoel in many years and would love to try those again, along with a host of Belgians (Stille Nacht, the aforementioned Gouden Carolus, Abbaye Des Rocs, and a ton of others). I'm thrilled that craft has taken off the way it has but long for some of those old styles and breweries that are now underrepresented.
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