Thursday, September 19, 2013

Grab Your Passport, BC Beers are Flying South

From the latest issue of BC Craft Beer News

One of the joys of being a craft beer enthusiast is drinking beers from different countries. When new imports arrive, the beer geeks all rush to the private liquor stores to snatch up a bottle (or three) and scurry home to add them to CellarHQ ( So if we enjoy imported beers, it’s only reasonable to believe that other countries would love to import and drink our glorious BC beers.

Currently, BC craft beers can be found in Washington State as Beverage Traders imports select Driftwood Brewing and Howe Sound Brewing beers. Much farther across the pond, Phillips Brewing started exporting to Japan in November 2012. Other than these three breweries, the world will have to come to BC to experience our beers. But that is all about to change.

2x4 Brewing and Imports from San Jose contacted Parallel 49 Brewing and Howe Sound Brewing to discuss their desire to import their beers to up to thirty US States. Thirty. That number is both impressive and daunting given the capacity of these craft breweries.

Parallel 49 Brewing; Twitter: @Parallel49Beer

Parallel 49, located in East Vancouver, is one of the newer kids on the block as they just celebrated their first birthday in May. In just one short year, they’ve accomplished more than what most new breweries would do in five years. They produced four main beers, twenty unique seasonal beers, multiple one-off casks for events, won four Canadian Brewing Awards and exported their beer to Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario. In fact, when they opened, they immediately applied to export to Ontario as they always had plans to expand within Canada. In April, Parallel 49 released a Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Maple Stout, which is a collaboration between P49 and Gigantic Brewing (Portland, OR). More recently in July, they released their second collaboration – this time with Ninkasi Brewing (Eugene, OR), called Red Eye Lager. Not only is a collaboration a unique way to create a new beer, it gave Parallel 49 some exposure in the USA. [note: someone at P49 needs to lay off the caffeine and take a nap] Impressive first year, guys.
Parallel 49 Tasting Room

I spoke with Graham With, Head Brewer at Parallel 49, and he indicated that there are no immediate plans to export into additional provinces and thus, when the call came in from 2x4 to discuss exporting to the USA, Parallel 49 was happy to entertain the possibility. As 2x4 appears to be quite flexible on the volume of beer being shipped, this works well within Parallel 49’s strategy. The plan is to start with two states – California and Arizona – and export seasonal 6-pack’s and 650ml bottles. The beers that will be heading south are Lost Souls (chocolate pumpkin porter), Ugly Sweater (milk stout), Salty Scot (Scotch ale/wee heavy), Old Boy (English brown ale), Hay Fever (saison) and Vow of Silence (Belgian strong dark ale). Will other seasonal bombers eventually cross the border? Maybe – they plan on monitoring the US demand and balancing that with what they produce for Canada. Get ready, US of A, you’re about to see what great beers BC can produce.

You may wonder how they will be able to keep up with production. Well, even though by May they were producing12,000 HL (1.2 million litres) per year, they could probably increase production to 15,000 to meet demand. Still not enough? How about the massive expansion they’re planning in November? Their capacity should increase by 30 – 40% by making this addition.

A year ago, the founders and childhood pals Nick, Mike and Anthony were likely hoping their little brewery would make it through their first year. Somehow I doubt they dreamed they would have had multiple expansions and contracts signed to export to the USA. It says a lot about their planning, management and, of course, their beer. If Parallel 49 is as popular in the USA as they are in Canada, I suspect they’ll be expanding even further in the ensuing year to keep up with demand.


Howe Sound Brewing; Twitter: @howesoundbeer

On the other side of the spectrum, Howe Sound Brewing has been operating in beautiful Squamish, BC since 1996 and is firmly entrenched in the craft beer scene. They operate the brewery, a brew pub and 20-room hotel, with catering and meeting facilities, all at this location. They source local foods, use their spent grains to make soaps and where possible, use their beers in their food. Howe Sound produces nine year-round beers and a total of thirty beers, including their seasonal releases.

Howe Sound Brew Pub - picture courtesy of Howe Sound Brewing
Howe Sound has a solid distribution within Canada and has serviced Alberta since 2008 – a market that has been very receptive and growing – and more recently in the past few years, they’ve exported to Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Newfoundland. They plan to expand their presence in their current markets, as well as picking specialty brews for specific provinces.

For the past five years, they have been exporting small orders to five US states (mainly Washington) though Beverage Traders. So why expand their exports to the USA now, especially on a much larger scale? Co-owner Leslie Fenn says it’s all due to capacity. Last summer, they doubled the size of their brewery when they installed a new brewery system and likely, they’re going to expand again in the not so distant future. In 2007 they were brewing 20,000 litres per month whereas currently, they brew 130,000 litres a month. That’s a whole lot of tasty craft beer. The capacity with the new system is 160,000 litres/mo. thus, they still have 30,000 litres a month that can be allocated to new distribution.

Bottling Line - picture courtesy of Howe Sound Brewing

"Although a few Canadian breweries, usually large ones, have exported to the USA previously, the 2x4 approach is to gather and market some of the best beers that BC and Canada has to offer. In a sense creating a brand around quality Canadian beer. I think it's a good strategy for Canadian craft, so we don't get lost in the thousands of offerings available on US retail shelves."  Dave Fenn, Co-owner
As with Parallel 49, 2x4 approached Howe Sound and by the time this goes to print, they should be importing their beers to the USA. Beverage Traders will continue to service their current markets whereas 2x4 will start importing their beers in August to California, Arizona, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico. Up to twenty-three states may one day see the award winning Howe Sound beers. In the past five years, they’ve won seventeen North American Brewers Awards and fifteen Canadian Brewers Awards.

Some of their specialty beers including Total Eclipse of the Hop (IPA), Megadestroyer (imperial licorice stout), King Heffy (imperial hefeweizen) and Diamond Head (oatmeal stout) are packing their bags to make the trek to the states. They’re all higher gravity beers, will travel well and have a longer shelf life. The lucky people in the USA are about to experience these fantastic beers and their unique one litre (33.814 ounces for you US folk) re-closable “pot-stopper” bottles. Also in the works in the next six months is to send smaller batches of unique beers in 650ml bottles. For August, they’re planning on shipping 12,000 litres (1,000 cases) and then adjust future shipments based on sales in these five states. If you’re playing along and still doing the math, we still have 18,000 litres per month of capacity for future growth.

Leslie and her partners, who are also her siblings, have planned for the future growth in Canada as well as the US market and seem to be well positioned to keep both of these markets well lubricated with their beer.
Beatuiful Squamish, BC - home of Howe Sound Brewing

These two craft breweries have an amazing opportunity and, perhaps, a heavy onus on their shoulders. If they succeed in supplying the US market with beers they enjoy and can meet the US production demands, they will put BC breweries on the US craft beer map. If they don’t meet expectations, importers may be less inclined to bring on new BC clients. Yup, that’s a wee bit of pressure on these two breweries but as I’ve tried all of these beers, I have no qualms that the US market will embrace them. It may all come down to supply vs. demand and as my Econ professor would say – oh who cares what he would say (he’s a bit of a jerk), let’s all toast Parallel 49 and Howe Sound and root for them to have much success in the USA.




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