A little while ago I was invited to participate in an online American craft beer tasting by the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) – a department of Unites States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This professionally organized tasting event, hosted together with the Brewers’ Association (BA), was aimed at promoting new-to-market craft beer to importers and sellers in The Netherlands. About 20 beer professionals participated, resulting in a fun and interactive event. Though it is continually growing, the number of craft beer consumers are minimal compared to that in the United States, so naturally I had several questions as to the why of this event and more so, why now?
The Netherlands is a fast growing beer market
The Netherlands is known as a beer drinking country but an even bigger exporter of it. Based on most recent data available (2019), we are the second largest beer export country in the world with 18.4 million hectoliters, only barely surpassing Belgium. This amounts to approximately 13% of the world’s 16 billion dollar beer export market. The largest part of what we export, roughly one quarter, is destined for the United States market, followed by France and South Africa. In comparison, we rank number 8 as beer import country, importing only a quarter of the value of beer that we export. Nonetheless, we are one of the fastest growing beer markets in the world.
The Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) links U.S. agriculture to the world to enhance export opportunities and global food security. In addition to its Washington, D.C. staff, FAS has a global network of 98 offices covering 177 countries. These offices are staffed by agricultural attachés and locally hired agricultural experts who are the eyes, ears, and voice for U.S. agriculture around the world. FAS staff identify problems, provide practical solutions, and work to advance opportunities for U.S. agriculture and support U.S. foreign policy around the globe.
Marcel Pinckaers, Agricultural Specialist at FAS and one of the event organizers, is continuously on the lookout for interesting opportunities for US agricultural products in the Netherlands and Scandinavia. In a conversation with him I learned that NL is the 9th largest export market for US agricultural and food products. The craft beer market is only a very small part of that, but still interesting enough for the USDA and BA to focus their efforts on growing the US market share here. In Covid-times an online event is the most effective way to do that, also considering the fact that currently importers cannot travel to the United States.
Introducing American breweries to the Dutch market
So how does one go about organizing such an event and which beers do you choose? Marcel explains that this was carefully thought out and inquiries were made with BA and Dutch importers before making the selection. The choice was made for breweries that are not (widely) available in the Dutch market and who are ready to export to the EU. Other considerations were packaging and beer styles. Furthermore, Marcel acknowledges the importance of a close collaboration with the sector when it comes to market development. For this event Steve Parr of BA’s Export Development Program was involved in deciding on the final tasting list and co-host of the tasting event. This program supports U.S. brewers in identifying international opportunities and distributing their beers abroad. BA was also responsible for contacting the breweries, who were very willing to participate (despite the time difference, for Alaskan Brewery it was 5 am!).
Five breweries were introduced during the event and were present during the livestream to talk about the beers and answer questions from the audience. It took about a beer for the viewers to get ‘warmed up’, but it turned into a nice interactive chat with the brewers. We even threw in a couple of questions about hard seltzer to learn more about this fast growing phenomenon in the US. Read more below about the beers we tasted .
The first beer we tasted was the EOS Hefeweizen (5,2%) by Nebraska Brewing Co, a 30 BBL brewery located in Omaha, Nebraska. The beer is an award-winning Bavarian wheat beer and has an aroma of clove and banana, similar to Weihenstephaner.
The can reads “EOS, the Goddess of the Dawn, is fitting for the golden aspects of the color and striking aromatics this unfiltered Bavarian style Hefeweizen beer delivers. Medium body and a huge banana-like aroma creates a wonderful drinkability unlike many others. Immensely Pleasurable.”
An added bonus was the opportunity to see the brewery founders Paul and Kim Kavulak live during the tasting. Starting out with a brewpub in 2007, they have since then moved to a new and bigger brewery location with a taproom in 2014.
The next beer happened to be a Hefeweizen as well, with mango. I am pleasantly surprised German wheat ales are such a popular style in the US! The mango is very present in the aroma. The taste is less of a traditional Hefeweizen beer like the first one but with more tropical fruit. During the tasting they explained a little bit about the brewing process, such as they try to emulate the German minerals in the water. They also propagate and pitch their own yeast. They also make Seltzers, which it seems that many breweries are turning to a way of generating extra income in these hard Covid times (though not everyone seems very keen on them). It is hard to fathom why this is such a fast growing market, as it is basically just a sugary fruit drink with alcohol. But apparently it is perceived as healthier, since it is lower in calories than beer. As with most trends that originate in the US, this one has also hit The Netherlands.
Garage Brewing Co was established in 2013 in Temecula, California. And as the name says, it was started in a garage!
Based in San Diego, Coronado started back in 1996 when you could probably count the number of brewers there on one hand. We tasted their Weekend Vibes San Diego style IPA: grassy (my interpretation of resiny), fruity and dank, just like a West Coast IPA should be. Generally this type of IPA has a little less of malt backbone and a more prominent hop flavor. But what is a San Diego style exactly? According to Coronado there is no difference between ‘West Coast’ and ‘San Diego style’. It’s more of a marketing (and maybe a pride?) thing. Either way, a really good beer!
Alaska has always held a mystical appeal to me and the way Alaskan Brewing described it makes me want to visit even more now! The brewery was opened in 1986, the first brewery in Juneau since the Prohibition. The city was known for gold mining and is named after a gold prospector from Quebec, Joe Juneau. Beers used to be stored in the mineshafts where it was nice and cold. One of the beers we tasted was the Amber Alt Style Ale, an ode to the beers brewed during the gold rush era and the first beer that Alaskan Brewing produced in 1986. The second beer, SMaSH Galaxy, is a double IPA made with a single malt and single hop, an interesting mix of tropical fruit and herbal flavors. They are known to use local ingredients in their beers as well such as spruce tips, which they also add to their Hard Seltzers.
Frogichlaus is the smallest beer of them all, but has the biggest punch of the pack at 13,5%. It is a Swiss Style Celebration Lager, no doubt inspired by the famous Swiss beer ‘Samichlaus’, once the world’s strongest lager when it was first produced in 1980. Even Frogichlaus’ label looks similar. It is a sweet and sticky and has a high ABV (for a lager beer), which Fred Karm learned from our very own Menno Olivier at Brouwerij De Molen! Hoppin’ Frog was founded in 2006 by Fred, who had been brewing award-winning beers for many years before that, and is located in Akron, Ohio.
Thanks to FAS and BA for organizing this fun beer tasting and for the excellent beer selection. Keep a lookout for them in your local beer store, they may be available in NL soon!
 It also depends on which organization you refer to. The databank I consulted (WorldBank) bases their numbers on UN and WTO figures. The OEC however claims the opposite: Belgium is nr 2 exporter and The Netherlands nr 3 based on total export value.
 BBL stands for US barrel. In this example, 30 BBL compares to approximately 4.800 liters (or 48 hecto).