Japan's Craft Brewers Eye the American Market
Over the past two decades, craft beer has exploded in America, and as is often the case with major American trends, the aftershocks have been felt all over the globe. From the U.K. to Spain to Hong Kong and all the way to New Zealand, most countries now have independent breweries making “American-style” IPAs and other beers. And recently, it seems like more of those breweries want to try to sell their wares in the country that inspired them.
Yesterday, the Japanese Craft Beer association announced a new U.S.-focused campaign called “Drink in a New Language,” encouraging American drinkers (mainly on the West Coast) “to discover the authenticity, richness and unique flavor profile of Japanese craft beer.” Granted, Japanese craft beer isn’t new: For instance, Hitachino Nest Beer—one of the brands participating in the campaign—has been a regular on many American beer menus since the ‘90s. But it is interesting that this group of 22 breweries is just now hoping “to gain more visibility and influence, as well as introduce new beer to the market.”
And though this Japanese campaign may be a concerted effort, plenty of other international brands have made big plays into America recently, too. For instance, the Scottish brewery BrewDog just opened a massive production facility (and beer hotel) in the heart of Ohio; and the Dutch brand Mikkeller, which already had a strong American presence, recently opened a brewery in Citi Field where the New York Mets play. What’s more American than baseball, Cracker Jacks, and a craft beer produced by a Danish guy?!
Human nature probably explains why some of these breweries have their eye on the U.S. market. Clearly, a brand can take a certain “if we can make it there, we can make it anywhere” pride in selling beer in America. Meanwhile, as the largest market for craft beer, selling in the U.S. probably seems like a solid business opportunity for a lot of these companies.
“The U.S. beer market is the most profitable beer market in the world, so it makes sense that international brewers would want to have a presence here,” explains Bart Watson, Chief Economist for the American craft beer trade group the Brewers Association. “The U.S. is also arguably the most dynamic and innovative beer market in the world at the moment, so brewers with a presence in the U.S. gain a more direct connection to that innovative pulse.”
However, another factor may be at play as well: The entire impetus behind the craft movement was novelty—breaking away from seeing the same pale lagers like Budweiser everywhere you turn. But at this point, that spirit of experimentation has been pushed so far that sometimes it seems like everything has been tried before, like the novelty of novelty has worn off.
In that environment, imported brands can potentially feel like a different sort of choice. Before craft beer, most beer menus were divided into domestic and imported brands—with country of origin being the primary differentiating factor. Most beer menus have done away with that convention, but it’s possible that as the craft takeover starts to make America’s beer choices feel a bit similar, being an international brand may once again prove to be a decent way to stand out from the crowd.
Of course, whether that is actually the case or not is still yet to be seen: We haven’t quite reached a full-on international craft beer invasion yet. But it appears at least that Japan thinks it’s worth a shot.