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Posted: May 13, 2009

How a Longmont brewer is spreading the gospel of U.S. craft beers in Europe.

Plus Fat Tire in a can, just in time for camping season

Jay Dedrick

When we talk American craft beer, you’re likely thinking in terms of Americans enjoying American-brewed beers from small (less than 2 million barrels of beer brewed annually), independent brewers.

How about those same beers being enjoyed by suds lovers on the other side of the globe? Sure, you take for granted seeing European beers here in the States, but imagine finding a Left Hand Milk Stout in a watering hole in Stockholm.

Left Hand president and co-founder Eric Wallace imagined just that, then went out and made it happen. He developed his passion for quality beer while living overseas with his Air Force father and family. He spent more years in Europe while serving in the Air Force himself, so he developed an understanding of the culture and a few contacts along the way.

“I’m over there more than the average person,” Wallace says. “We go back frequently to see my wife’s family. So I started poking around and asking questions, and one thing led to another. I got involved in some beer shows and food events in Torino, Italy. The Brewers Association asked me to go along with their Export Development Program to help translate English into Italian. I already knew a lot of the players, and those relationships helped me reach an agreement to export our beer to the Netherlands.”

Left Hand’s reputation preceded it in Sweden, where an importer of several U.S. craft beers reached out to Wallace, leading to his second European market. Logistical hurdles are plentiful in getting the beer there and keeping it flowing, and Wallace isn’t getting rich from exports. But he likes the idea of laying the groundwork for greater understanding and acceptance of American beers in the future.

“We’re dealing with a market that’s a decade or so behind us in terms of awareness of craft beer,” he says. “Most Europeans assume we still just have a bunch of light, industrial beer. But I talk to people who have tried our beer and they’ll say, ‘I never knew beer could taste like this!’” Besides Milk Stout, Wallace is sending Haystack Wheat for overseas sales, too. “This is still a work in progress. It’s by no means a slam-dunk. It takes a lot of time and a fair amount of travel. Is it going to be viable long-term? When can we get enough awareness of American craft beer over there? That’s what we’re learning. We want to make it a real market.”

Can revival

I finally got a chance to try the latest canned micro from Oskar Blues in Lyons. Mama’s Little Yella Pils should shape up to be the perfect hot-day refresher this summer. Smooth and balanced, with just enough body to remind you that you’re drinking something special.

And after rolling Fat Tire into cans last summer, New Belgium in Fort Collins is set to offer Sunshine Wheat in cans this season, only in Colorado. Start planning those camping trips now.
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