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Posted: September 24, 2010

Colorado beer lovers love Oktoberfest

It's profit time for one local company

Jay Dedrick

It's Oktoberfest in Germany, which means it's a very lucrative time for a Littleton business.

Paulaner HP USA is the U.S. importer of seven styles of Paulaner beer, including the Oktoberfest-Marzen - a beer you're likely to find at American celebrations like those happening the last weekend of September in Denver's Ballpark neighborhood and the Mile High Marketplace at I-76 and East 88th Avenue in Henderson.

"For any Germany brewery, this is the peak of the summer sales season," said Jeff Coleman, president and CEO of Paulaner HP USA. "It's a pivotal time of year. For our products in America, we have more opportunities for consumer sampling over a window of about 60 days than we do the other 10 months of the year combined."

Plenty of that sampling will be going on here. In a state known for its 100 craft brewers and mass-market facilities in Golden and Fort Collins, it might be the one time of year when Colorado beer drinkers think imports first.

"On a per capita basis, Colorado is our top volume state," said Jeff Coleman, president and CEO of Paulaner HP USA. "As well it should be, because we have our headquarters here."

Coleman's business imports Paulaner beers along with several other European beers and wines. He sells to distributors, who sell to retail accounts in all 50 states. Based on total volume, California, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas and Florida are the biggest buyers. The company employs 13 at the Littleton base and 22 sales representatives across the country.
Paulaner HP USA sells just over 1 million cases of beer annually, and is enjoying growth this year of 23 percent nationally.

Coleman's history with Paulaner goes back to 1987, when he began as the brewer's American importer. The partnership was a successful one, but when the brands were shifted to a Heineken affiliate in 2003, Coleman was without a portfolio. He started his own company and began importing several Fuller's beers from Great Britain.

Last year, when Paulaner decided to revert to importing its beers via a subsidiary, it shopped around - then decided to go with Coleman.

"The break-up was a good break-up, so we stayed in touch over the years," Coleman said. "You learn that the beer business is quite an incestuous industry. If you live long enough, you work with everyone twice. But I never really expected to get them back. It's kind of like getting your kids back after a 6-year sabbatical."

Coleman was operating out of his home last year when the call came from Paulaner; in April, he moved the company into the 8,500-square-foot Littleton facility. "My wife doesn't miss us," he said, chuckling.
The U.S. outpost brings the beer in from Europe and initially warehouses it in Baltimore and Houston. "That way, a single distributor doesn't have to take too much inventory on the floor," Coleman said. "As a result, there's a high degree of turnover in product. So we can provide nearly the same level of freshness as Coors in Golden - almost."

The recession hasn't been kind in general to mid-priced beers and imports, but Coleman said there's a silver lining.

"A lot of charities and nonprofits are looking for new ways of fundraising, and one way is beer events like Oktoberfest. We picked up new events this year on that basis alone. Around the country, we'll do 170 events of 100 kegs or more."

Paulaner might be the most recognized name at Oktoberfests - understandable, given that the Munich brewer has been around since 1634. But Coleman also imports brews from Bavarian brewer Hacker-Pschoor. Founded in 1417, it makes Paulaner look like a kid.

Coleman still has his Fuller's portfolio, has branched into wine importing - again leaning on Germany, but also Italy - and has plans to start importing spirits next year. First out of the box will be an herbal liqueur similar to Jagermeister.

"No one goes thirsty," he said. "It's whatever you like."
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