Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bourbon-barrel stout for the world: Small scale brewing and beer exports.

It’s a cliché by now to cite the interwoven world economy as rationale for various unprecedented occurrences, and yet consider my reaction two nights ago when I visited the web site of the Birrificio Montegioco in Italy and noted the brewery’s extremely small size.

I’ve not bothered to decipher the production from hectoliters to gallons, but no matter; the point is that in Europe at present, impossibly small breweries are mining a lucrative export trade with other European nations, with places like Japan and with the United States, the latter coming in spite of the strength of the Euro and concurrent imbalances in value.

As for the situation in reverse, my peripatetic Danish friend Big Kim wrote last week to report his presence at a good beer bar (in Stockholm, I believe) where several American microbrews from the West Coast were being somewhat joyously sampled. Most were IPAs, which of course casts an interesting twist on the style’s British imperial origins and the unique (at the time) solution of letting the beer grow to maturity during the long period of travel to its destination.

Would it be possible for an American brewery as small as (for instance) Indiana’s Upland Brewing Company to do two-thirds of its business away from its home country (the norm for several small craft brewers in Belgium), as opposed to what I’m guessing would be a current percentage of 95% sales within Indiana?

It depends. The export beer would have to be specifically oriented to tastes of overseas markets. It probably would have to be big in terms of flavor and alcohol content, and specially packaged.

Something like BBC’s Jefferson Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout, shipped in something resembling a whisky bottle, with the word “Kentucky” and the name of the distiller providing the barrels highlighted early and often, and shipped to Japan and an Asian market that is willing to pay top dollar for luxury items.

Even better, the transit time would not affect the quality of the beer. It would enhance it.

If you don’t believe me about the potential of the Japanese market, ring your favorite Commonwealth distiller of bourbon and ask how much of its top-shelf whisky goes to Japan – and don’t be surprised at the answer.

To be sure, continental markets in Europe typically offer much greater resistance to such innovation, and grow more parochial about beer as one proceeds inland, so such an export strategy as that outlined above might work along the coastal periphery: Netherlands, the U.K., Scandinavia and Finland. In those areas, cosmopolitanism in beer is more pronounced.

It’s something worth considering, isn't it?

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

An interesting question, for sure. My biggest concern is that the globalization of micros would somehow bastardize the very reason for them. Of course, this is assuming that brewing/drinking locally should take precedence, which I'm not sure is true.

Hope you don't mind, I've quoted you on our blog.